Figures released by the New York City Department of Health show that New Yorkers are not only living longer, their life expectancy is increasing at a faster rate than the average American. By this measure, New Yorkers are among the healthiest in the country. The average New York City dweller’s life expectancy is now 80.6 years while the average American’s life expectancy is 78.7 years. Although many factors contribute to a city’s life expectancy statistics, including crime rates, addictions, quality of healthcare, and wealth, also taken into account are cancer rates, which have declined by nearly one fifth, and cardiac arrest, which has dropped by a third in the last twenty years.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former NYC Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden worked aggressively to push New York’s average life expectancy ever higher. The smoking ban of 2003 has resulted in a 10% decrease in the number of smoking related deaths in just 10 years. In 2007, artificial trans fats were banned from city restaurant menus, in effect forcing companies to develop healthier alternative shortenings and cooking oils. The prohibition of trans fats was a bold and unpopular move that has since gained widespread acceptance, as supported by the FDA’s recent announcement that artificial trans fats are no longer “generally recognized as safe.” With more restrictions likely to come, many companies are taking steps to limit or eliminate trans fats from their products, contributing to a countrywide health benefit.
Public policy aside, there are other factors that contribute to the overall health and longevity of New Yorkers. New York scores consistently high on lists that rate the Best Walking Cities in the U.S. Walking regularly is indeed healthy and researchers state that walking speed also reflects health status. New Yorkers are the fastest pedestrians in the country and people who walk faster live longer and enjoy better health as they age. The very structure of the city encourages exercise, as the use of public transportation is rational, and driving almost impossible. The long city blocks, subway stairs and walk up flats, public parks, interesting architecture, walking to work and school, or just going about the business of the day all contribute to continuous activity, benefitting the cardiovascular systems, health and longevity of city dwellers.
What can we glean from the phenomenon coined the “urban health advantage?” Some say it’s the people who make the city healthier and that New Yorkers attitudes toward an expectation and maintenance of good health drives the success of measures like smoking and trans fat bans. Whatever it is, it’s working and you can make it work for you, no matter where you live, by making every minute count towards a healthier you, exactly like a New York minute.
- Pick up the pace. Interval training is gaining steam as growing research suggests that intensity, not duration, is the key to fitness. Superpower your walking, biking, or running routine by injecting 10 – 30 second intervals of brisk effort throughout the workout and following up with slower paced recovery speed before your next burst. Research shows 20 minutes of interval training 3 times a week will help to shed excess weight, build muscle, and burn fat at a quicker pace than exercising at moderate intensity for 40 minutes 3 times per week.
- Rethink your definition of exercise. Add spontaneous movement throughout the day. We burn calories with every movement we make. Ramping up daily activities with bursts of exercise can add up over the course of the day and provide the same health benefits as continuous 10 minute bouts of moderate exercise. Walk, bend, fidget, jump around, play, dance, stretch, do jumping jacks, pretend you are a kid again. When you put your mind to it, there are many ways to add 30 seconds or a few minutes of movement all through the day.
- When it comes to maintaining healthy weight, every minute counts. Movement such as walking briskly to and from the car, trotting up the stairs, or jumping rope can raise your heartbeat a bit, benefitting your overall cardiovascular health. These short bouts can add up quickly to meet or exceed the recommended 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.
Those one minute exercise bursts can quickly boost your energy level, help refocus your attention, and increase blood flow, benefitting your brain, organs and cells. Everyone has an extra minute here and there. Make those minutes count toward overall health. Who knows, next time you get to the city and can walk at the local pace instead of the tourist’s stroll, you may actually realize that being fit is not only healthy, it feels really great too. Taxi!