By Lauren Bock
You may have heard the slogan ‘the more you move, the more you move’ – if you are a patient of mine, there is a good chance that you have heard that line from me a time or two. As a Lifestyle Medicine specialist in a busy Cardiology practice, much of my days are spent discussing healthier habits with my patients. While it is easy to focus on nutrition as ‘low hanging fruit’, movement is a core concept in health that is often misunderstood. It has enormous benefits, especially when it is built naturally into the rhythms of our daily lives. Therefore, cities that are built to make physical activity a natural part of our lifestyles are often the healthiest cities known to man.
As we look globally, particularly into the areas known as Blue Zones where people live longer, healthier lives, movement is at the core of these longevity hot spots. In addition to a plant-predominant diet, those living in Blue Zones move NATURALLY…they move in nature. These centenarians (those living to age 100 and beyond) have spent their whole lives moving – walking to the farmers market – often up hills, using bikes instead of cars and pushing their lawn mowers instead of riding the lawn tractors. While I won’t deter my patients from joining a gym, it turns out that people who move naturally actually live longer, healthier lives than the average Joe at the gym. Natural movement throughout the day is a far healthier option than working a desk job from 9-5 and squeezing in 45 minutes at the gym.
Studies show that physical activity in nature is optimal for our physical and mental health. Optimal outdoor exposure boosts our immune system, vitamin D level, mood, microbiome and helps regulate our circadian rhythm for better sleep. The benefits of movement are so profound in medicine that an ‘Exercise IS Medicine’ program has been created to prevent and treat common chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. With the ‘Exercise IS Medicine’ program, patients leave the doctors office with a prescription for exercise in lieu of the traditional prescription for a medication. Unlike most medication side effects, an exercise prescription boasts an appealing side effect profile including weight loss, improved mood, better sleep and more…and your copay at the pharmacy is $0. In Spring 2022, Virginia Cardiology Consultants, Be Well Lifestyle Medicine and the FXBG Co-Op will collaborate to create a local Walk with a Doc program to encourage all residents to log more steps outdoors along the Rappahannock Canal Path and Heritage Trail.
How do we build more movement into our lives? Sure, you can use standing desks at work and take the occasional walking break to ‘close your rings’ on your Apple Watch; however, if we want real change, building movement into our lives involves transit infrastructure to support such movement safely. In Blue Zones, the healthy choice IS the easy choice, i.e, it is easier to ride one’s bike to work than to drive one’s car and children ride the ‘walking bus’ to school. The visions of Fred15 and Blue Zones align well with one another – improving natural transportation improves our personal health, the overall health of our community and Mother Earth.
Lauren Bock has been a PA since 2007, board-certified in Lifestyle Medicine, currently practicing in cardiology, founder of Be Well Lifestyle Medicine and coach with Terra Health Coaching. She is an advocate for community wellness programs that support personal health and environmental sustainability.