Experts recommend that most adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, and exercise has been shown to lengthen life and help dodge possible long-term health consequences like heart disease and early death. Recent studies suggest that exercise may counteract the negative effects of poor sleep. One study found that being physically active for at least 25 minutes a day can erase the risk of early death associated with too much sleep or trouble falling asleep. Another study found that lower levels of physical activity may exacerbate the impact of poor sleep on early death, heart disease, and cancer.
The latest study from China used accelerometers to quantify sleep and physical activity, ensuring objective data. The study found that those who exercised the least and slept less than 6 hours were 2.5 times more likely to die during the 7-year study. Less active folks who got the recommended sleep were 79% more likely to die, and the risk was slightly higher for those who logged more than 8 hours a night. But those risks disappeared for short- or long-sleeping participants who logged at least 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous activity.
Exercise fights inflammatory and metabolic dysregulations and abnormal sympathetic nervous system activity, which are associated with cardiovascular diseases and other potentially fatal conditions. Exercise also improves sleep, while better sleep makes it easier to stick with an exercise program. Ideally, an exercise program will include a mix of cardio and resistance exercise. The timing or intensity of exercise doesn’t seem to matter much, but there is evidence that a greater duration contributes to larger improvements in sleep.
The study raises a practical question of how to find the time, energy, and motivation to exercise if you don’t get the proper amount of sleep. The solution is to use one to fix the other. Today’s workout will improve tonight’s sleep. And the better you sleep tonight, the more likely you are to stick with the program.