- The less sleep a person regularly gets, the higher their risks of early mortality from any cause are, new research shows.
- The harms derived from poor sleep are exacerbated by low levels of physical activity, and the benefits of quality sleep could be boosted by higher levels of exercise.
- Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as cycling, per week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. When it comes to strength training, a session two or more days per week is beneficial.
The ripple effect of consistently bad sleep is well-documented in research, and includes higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. While focusing on strategies that get you quality sleep is important, one way to counteract those boosted risks is through increasing your physical activity, according to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Researchers looked at information provided by about 380,000 middle-aged men and women taking part in the U.K. Biobank study, which is tracking the long-term health of more than half a million people. They compared participants’ normal weekly physical activity levels with their reported sleep quality.
From that, they assessed a dozen combinations of physical activity and sleep over an 11-year period. For example, they determined possible health effects from daytime sleepiness plus a medium amount of daily exercise versus being a night owl and doing a high amount of physical activity every day.
With all these variables, they concluded that the lower the sleep score, the higher the risks of early mortality were from any cause, but particularly from cardiovascular disease. They were also more likely to have higher risk of cancer, particularly lung cancer.
That was in strong contrast to those with higher physical activity and healthy sleep score combinations, which showed the lowest risk of developing heart problems or facing a cancer diagnosis.
Researchers concluded that the harms derived from poor sleep are exacerbated by low levels of physical activity, and the flip side may also be true: The benefits of quality sleep could be boosted by higher levels of exercise.
This adds to ample previous research showing the strong connection between sleep and exercise, and how one affects that other deeply. In large part, that’s because physical activity has a profound effect on your circadian rhythm and hormone regulation, which are both essential for deep sleep. But the ripple effect doesn’t stop there.
“When you exercise, it has a larger effect on your health, and especially on your sleep, than you might realize,” said Shawn Youngstedt, Ph.D., a professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University. He told Bicycling that the way consistent, regular activity improves hormone function—including melatonin and cortisol, which are integral to sleep regulation—has been linked to a range of advantages, such as better pain management, emotional health, less fat storage, and lower blood pressure.
“As you improve your hormone regulation, your body clock will become more efficient, and that has a considerable consequences for your sleep,” Youngstedt said. “One keeps strengthening the other in ways that are significant.”
Not sure how much physical activity will get the job done? The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends adults ages 18 to 64 get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as cycling, per week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. When it comes to strength training, the WHO recommends a session two or more days per week.
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