Exercise for Sleep, Better Health and a Reduced Risk of Cancer
Is there anything that a regular exercise routine can’t help with? As it stands, exercise increases awareness, mental clarity, strengthens the immune system, and improves our mood, to name a scant few of its positive side effects. Now we can add ‘sleeping better’ to that list.
In several sleep studies, scientists have shown that sleep and exercise have a direct correlation. Participants in these studies reported that light to moderate intensity exercise during the day improved how quickly they were able to fall asleep and the quality of their sleep. Participants also reported waking up more refreshed when they exercised.
The subjects from a handful of studies were from various segments of the population. In one, post-menopausal women were studied, in another, men between the ages of 30 and 56. Some participants in both of these studies also reported sleeping better with intense exercise during the day or before bed. These few were the exception, however.
Types of Exercise for Sleep
Aerobic exercise (cardiovascular exercise) was used in these sleep studies. In a Northwestern university study, this included walking or jogging on a treadmill or using the stationary bike at about 75 percent of their maximum heart rate. These subjects were not training for marathons, just a choice between two 20-minute workouts four days a week, or one 30-40 minute session four times a week.
Both groups did well and improved their sleep quality with exercise, compared to the control group who did nothing. This study makes a simple statement: Exercise and sleep go hand in hand, as long as you don’t overdo it.
What are some other activities you can do to get your heart rate to 75% of your maximum? First, use this simple formula to get a general idea of your max. heart rate; then you can calculate 75% of this number. This is the Karvonen formula:
206.9-(67 x age) = Max heart rate.
There are other formulas and factors you may want to consider. For example, it could be useful to know your heart rate reserve, resting heart rate and your target training zone, but there are already plenty of resources available for further research, should you need it.
To follow the examples in these studies, pick any activity that keeps your body moving at a steady pace for the entire length of the prescribed time. So:
-Sports (basketball, soccer, and other sports with constant movement.)
-Kettlebell exercises like the swing and snatch
-Skateboarding, surfing, …
-Exercise and dance classes
You probably have favorites you could add to this list, but the idea is to practice steady, or at least continuous exercise for 20-40 minutes at a time.
Get Enough Sleep
Exercise and sleep are such a powerful combination that one study highlighted at nih.gov found it reduced cancer risk in women with no previous history by as much as 20 percent (How this was calculated is not explained.) The source of the benefits is unknown, but credited to the usual positive effects of exercise.
However, according to this same study, getting too little sleep can actually increase the risk for cancer (again, how this was calculated is unclear.) The article about this study concluded by noting, “(being) healthier is a no-brainer.”
In other words, living a healthy lifestyle is good for you and makes you feel good too. To speculate, perhaps the negative effects of the study came from the catabolic effect of excessive exercise. While enough exercise has positive side effects, exercising too much, too long or with too much intensity breaks the body down, and can be difficult to recover from.
Exercising when the body hasn’t recovered from the last workout means a compromised immune system, higher blood pressure, and muscle tissue that hasn’t yet repaired itself. Essentially, the body experiences additional stress in this state, which may contribute to health problems.
So exercise as much as you want, just be sure to get enough sleep to recover. If this study is correct, that means at least 8 hours a night.
Bodybuilders have long understood that sleep and exercise are inseparable. Muscle tissue is broken down when lifting weights, and it rebuilds when the body is at rest. Hubpages contributor Shannon Clark notes that inadequate sleep can increase daytime cortisol levels. Release of this hormone can inhibit proper muscle repair, and can even interfere with fat loss.
In other words, if you workout hard to build muscle and lose fat, getting enough sleep will help with both.
To Sleep or Exercise?
The important information to take away from these findings is not to do everything in moderation. If anything, these studies emphasize the importance of proper recovery. So workout hard or workout out a moderate intensity, but definitely get your exercise. Above all, when the workout is done, get to sleep!
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