Longevity Articles

How Restorative Workouts Lead to a Longer Life

How Restorative Workouts Lead to a Longer Life

While you may think that you need to run sprints, do neverending burpees, and go to five HIIT classes per week to stay healthy, that’s not always the case. While those higher-intensity workouts certainly have a time and a place, more and more research is emerging that shows the benefits of slow and restorative workouts. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what these workouts are, the evidence behind their benefits, and how to incorporate them into your exercise routine. 

What Are Restorative Workouts?

Restorative workouts are exercises that focus on promoting recovery, reducing stress, and enhancing overall well-being. They are low-impact, gentle, and don’t strain your joints and muscles excessively. Some common restorative workouts include:

  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Pilates
  • Walking
  • Swimming

Restorative Workouts and Longevity: The Research

Engaging in these workouts may contribute to a longer and healthier life by supporting aspects of physical and mental health, including stress reduction, better sleep, and improved balance, flexibility, and mobility. Light and restorative exercises have also been shown to support mental clarity, mindfulness, circulation, respiratory function, and even maintain telomere length.

Let’s take a closer look at the research behind some of these exercises. 


Out of all these restorative exercises, we have the most research on yoga. Yoga's origins can be traced to northern India over 5,000 years ago—but its resurgence in modern-day workout routines only became mainstream in the 1970s and 80s.  

Most people enjoy yoga for its relaxing, calming, and grounding effects. But yoga does much more than that. Unsurprisingly, research shows that people who regularly do yoga have reductions in stress—and this is across all types of yoga, including Bikram, Hatha, Kundalini, and Yin yoga. It also helps to reduce burnout in healthcare workers and increases mindfulness in daily life.

When it comes to physical health, yoga is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular conditions, including improvements in blood pressure, body weight, blood sugar management, resting heart rate, and cholesterol or lipid profiles. Regular yoga practice (a minimum of ten weeks) also has been shown to improve pulmonary function and lung health. This improvement is likely due to the deep, controlled, and conscious breathing in yoga practices that enhance lung capacity, respiratory function, and oxygenation.

A more recent revelation is that yoga practice can actually reverse aspects of cellular aging. In a study of 96 healthy people, partaking in a yoga and mindfulness intervention for 12 weeks led to significant improvements in several markers of cellular aging. These included reductions in markers of DNA damage, oxidative stress, cortisol, and IL-6 (a pro-inflammatory signaling molecule), plus increases in total antioxidant capacity, sirtuin-1 activity, BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), and telomerase activity.

Telomerase is the enzyme that repairs and maintains telomeres—the protective endcaps on our chromosomes that are proxies for biological age, or how quickly our cells and organs are aging. The researchers also found that the average telomere length was increased in the yoga group, although it didn’t reach significance, which may be due to the short length of the study. 

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a style of the Chinese martial arts called Wushu, consisting of slow and defined motion sequences. This form of restorative movement has been found to reduce stress, improve mood, and support mental health—in fact, it’s often described as "meditation in motion.”

In the physical realm, research has shown that Tai Chi training improves muscle strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility—all critical aspects of physical health that tend to decline with age and contribute to illness and mortality. 

One interesting study looked at the effects of Tai Chi on health markers in people with metabolic disorders. In this meta-analysis of over 1,200 people, having a Tai Chi practice significantly reduced blood glucose levels, hemoglobin A1C (an important diagnostic biomarker of metabolic health), body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, and total cholesterol. It also improved quality of life and physical functioning. Although Tai Chi may seem slow to some, the benefits of this restorative mindfulness movement are clear. 


Pilates is a low-impact exercise that can be done on the floor or reformer machines, focusing on core strength, flexibility, and overall body awareness. Although the various straps, springs, and pulleys can initially seem intimidating, Pilates is easy to get the hang of and has plenty of benefits.

One of the top goals of Pilates is to increase core strength, including the abdominals, obliques, and lower back. Improved core strength then has a trickle-down effect of improving stability, posture, and overall functional movement.

Pilates is also linked to muscle endurance and strength, flexibility, joint health, enhanced range of motion, and coordination—all of which can benefit your higher-intensity workout days. And it’s not just for younger people—a recent meta-analysis of 30 studies found several benefits to older adults. In this review, Pilates was linked to improvements in dynamic balance, aerobic capacity, and aerobic resistance, which are important aspects of maintaining physical health with age.

Similarly, another study found that Pilates practice reduced the risk of falls—a significant contributor to mortality and reduced quality of life in older adults. In this research, Pilates improved functional mobility, gait, and stability. 

Lastly, a small study with older women found that an 8-week mat-based Pilates training intervention led to increases in BDNF levels—a neurotrophic growth factor that supports the growth and maintenance of neurons and neuroplasticity. 


It’s well-known by now that walking is beneficial for health. This simple, free activity is low-impact, restorative, and highly effective for healthy aging. Walking is an excellent aerobic exercise for cardiovascular health, as it increases blood circulation and promotes oxygen delivery to the body's tissues. 

Just about every aspect of health can be improved by regular walking, including weight and blood sugar management, joint health, bone density, mood, cognitive function, sleep, energy, and muscular function. 

Research has also found that walking improves longevity. In an extensive study of over 333,000 adults, walking for 90 to 720 minutes per week was associated with a 27 to 31% reduced risk of mortality and six additional years of life expectancy compared to people who did not walk. While 720 minutes (12 hours) might be excessive and difficult for some, 90 minutes per week is certainly doable. This increase in lifespan may be mediated by telomere length, as the regular walkers had longer leukocyte telomere lengths than non-walkers.


Although swimming can be an intense exercise at times, slow and mindful swimming is an excellent active recovery workout. The buoyancy of the water is low-impact, relieving strain and stress on muscles, bones, and joints. 

Like walking, swimming is a cardiovascular exercise that benefits heart health. It may boost lung capacity more than other aerobic exercises due to the unique dynamics of breathing while swimming. The fluid movements of swimming promote flexibility, range of motion, muscle tone, coordination, and endurance. 

These impressive benefits also translate to a longer life. In research with over 80,000 people, regular swimmers had a 28% reduced risk of early death from any cause and a 41% reduced risk of cardiovascular-related mortality.

Key Takeaways

High-intensity exercise and weightlifting are not the only ways to get healthy (although they have their benefits, too!). Slow, gentle, and restorative workouts also have wide-reaching benefits, including increasing lifespan and reducing mortality risk.

Some of the most well-researched restorative exercises are yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, walking, and swimming—all of which have noteworthy evidence-backed benefits, including stress reduction, cardiovascular health, pulmonary function, muscle strength, endurance, flexibility, mobility, mental health, and even increased lifespan.

If you’ve previously dismissed the idea of restorative exercises in favor of higher-intensity workouts, think again—try adding two to three sessions of these therapeutic movements to your weekly exercise routine and watch the benefits unfold. 


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