4 min read

Keeping your fingers busy is a key to aging well

The longest-lived people in Japan swear by this adage
Keeping your fingers busy is a key to aging well
Photo by Katarzyna Grabowska / Unsplash

My wife and I have been watching The Titan Games, a fitness competition hosted by Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. It features people, many that have overcome some hardship to be in impeccable shape and compete in this competition. Some of these people are in the gym 30+ hours a week and it's this regime that has got them through the rough moments of life.

For several years I regularly did CrossFit, the same as many of The Titan Games athletes. (But for many fewer hours, hence actually having body fat.) I found it to be a good source of community, good motivation for my fitness, and good variance to the blandness of a treadmill + weigh room.

However, it beats your body up and there isn't research to back up if working at that capacity is beneficial or even healthy over the long run. I stopped doing CrossFit about a year ago when I moved.

The longest-lived people don't go to the gym

It was around that same time that I read Blue Zones, a book I've mentioned several times that profiles several pockets of the longest-lived people on Earth.

The people of the Costa Rican Blue Zones work out in the fields for most of their lives, those in Okinawa garden and practice tai chi, in Loma Linda, CA they are notorious for walking quickly and doing moderate exercise, in Sardinia, they walk up to 5 miles every single day.

Overall, they stay active through the ordinary moments of their lives, not some dedicated time at the gym.

My favorite quote from the book Ikigai, which talks about Okinawan people, their health, happiness, and purpose is this:

"The key to staying sharp in old age is in your fingers. If you keep your fingers busy, you'll live to see 100."

This is about as simple as it gets. If you keep your fingers busy, you'll stay moving, and your mind will remain sharp.

Simply move

There's no single secret workout routine that only Instagram celebrities hold. There's no master diet, despite what the gym bros say.

The secret is dead simple: MOVE.

Even in today's busy modern life in front of a computer, tethered to our devices, and always chasing the next shiny thing. We still have to move. The word 'movement' is used intentionally. Exercise, workout, and fitness are all too prescriptive in meaning.

Sometimes my movement is a long run, sometimes a 20-minute weight routine at the gym, sometimes a CrossFit-style workout, sometimes a 30-minute walk, or sometimes even a several-minute bodyweight workout at home.

It can be simple. Again, my goal is to move, working in higher intensity sessions on occasion.

Now, all of this depends on what your goals are. I wanted to slim down and keep a moderate amount of muscle. I'm clear with myself that I don't want to be a muscular gym bro, I don't want to be a marathoner, but I do want to be healthy. In the last year I've lost and kept off 10-15 pounds from where I was before, I feel better physically than ever before, and I'm the happiest I've been with my body ever.

How to add movement into your busy day

We have a false narrative that we must have some crazy fitness routine filled with long high-intensity routines. The longest-lived people live by the simple idea to never retire and stay moving. We should too.

A few tactical tips:

  • I don't really love the gym since a lot of things there annoy me. I go for 20-30 minutes only to get the right amount of work done. A lot of people think they're cheating if they are there under an hour. It's liberating once you accept 20-30 minutes is plenty of time.
  • Instead of carving "exercise" into your day, make it part of your day. The usual tips to take the stairs, walk instead of drive, etc are sound tips. I even find when I cook for several hours on Sunday, I take a lot of steps around the kitchen.
  • Turn TV time into phone-free mobility. Just slide off the couch and stretch.
  • Think about what you can do in several minutes without equipment. Research shows that a simple bodyweight circuit in several minutes at home can be just as effective as a longer fitness regimen often recommended. I just downloaded the app Seven (no affiliation) which has the simple concept of creating simple seven-minute simple bodyweight workouts to do at home. I haven't tried it yet but I'm excited to work it in on occasion.

Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?

Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to end burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) who suffered deep burnout and came back from it with no help of the hacky advice out there.

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