Paying attention to the basics, such as sleep and physical activity, is essential to achieving and maintaining good health. Numerous studies demonstrate the importance of both sleep quality and physical activity to overall health and reduced disease risk.
A new study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, looks at the interplay between those two health factors, exploring whether or not getting sufficient physical activity could help to mitigate the negative health impact of insufficient or poor quality sleep.
Sleep and Physical Activity Study Used Long-Term Heath Data
Conducted by researchers from the University of Sydney, the University of Newcastle and University College London, this recently published study used data from the UK Biobank. Using that data allowed the researchers access to long-term heath data from participants that have been followed by UK Biobank since 2006. Drawing on the health data of 380,055 men and women classified as middle-aged, with an average age of 55, researchers were able to see an intriguing connection between sleep quality, physical activity, health and mortality.
According to the researchers, after reviewing 12 different pairings of sleep quality and physical activity level data groups, getting enough physical activity on a regular basis may help mitigate the impact of poor sleep quality. They found that those with the highest mortality rates and highest disease risk, such as for cardiovascular diseases and cancers, were those with both low activity levels and poor sleep quality. Naturally, those with high levels of physical activity and good sleep quality had the lowest mortality rates and were less likely to develop cardiovascular diseases, cancers, metabolic disorders, obesity and other chronic health conditions. Interestingly, poor sleepers who did get enough physical activity also tended to have a lower risk of mortality from such diseases and a lower risk of developing chronic health conditions.
While the researchers theorized that physical activity may offer some protection from the negative health impacts of poor sleep, the structure of the study did not allow for the showing of causation. Much of the data relied upon self-reporting and self-assessing by the study participants. However, the strong findings of links between physical activity, sleep quality and health indicate that more in-depth research could be valuable.
Getting Enough Physical Activity
As we’ve made the shift to modern urban living, accented by a comparatively wealthier and more technologically enhanced way of life than earlier generations enjoyed, we’ve become less physically active as a whole. People, on the average, lead more sedentary lives than was common in the past, from work to entertainment to transportation.
Kids don’t walk to school – uphill both ways, like their grandparents did – much any more, nor do they play outside as much. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), fully 80 percent of teens are not physically active enough. Adults drive more and walk less. Hard, physically demanding labor outdoors is no longer the norm. Screens are a huge part of entertainment today. We’re not evolutionarily designed for that, so this reduction in physical activity has a real health impact.
Current CDC and WHO standards say that adults need at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity along with muscle strengthening exercise or weight-bearing activities twice a week. The WHO encourages adults to increase that aerobic activity up to and beyond 300 minutes per week and to add 75 to 150 minutes of higher intensity aerobic activities to the mix. Comparing that to the average more rural lifestyle of just a few generations back, even that amount of physical activity is fairly minimal. Getting enough physical activity on a daily basis can improve health in many ways, including by helping to improve sleep.
How to Get Better Sleep
While exercise may be able to help reduce the negative health impact of poor sleep, the best solution is to also work to improve sleep. That’s because important health processes take place during sleep. These include muscle and tissue repair, physical growth, brain cleaning and maintenance processes and immune system processes. Physical activity does have a role in improving sleep, especially when done outside in morning light. That helps to realign the circadian rhythm, which has influence over sleep and wake times.
Encouraging a healthy circadian rhythm will result in better sleep for most people. Adopting a regular schedule for going to bed, waking up and for meal times can help. Make it a daily schedule and stick to it whether you are working or have the day off. Regular, rhythmic living develops good sleep habits. Make your bedroom as comfortable as possible. Try to keep the screens – television, computers and phones – out of the bedroom. Decrease screen use and avoid bright artificial light in the evenings. Light is a strong circadian rhythm cue and can disrupt the timing of your sleep.
Go Back to Basics for Better Health
Physical activity, sleep and diet are the basic elements of good health, something that science is gaining a deeper understanding of with each passing day. Make getting back to basics – staying physically active, being proactive about sleep quality and eating a health diet – a part of your health supporting goals.