We know that both sleep and exercise are vital to good
cardiovascular health. In our busy lives, how does one decide which is more
important, and which one can you get away with doing less?
Multiple studies have shown that less than an average of
6 hours of sleep increases your risk of heart attacks and other serious
cardiovascular diseases like hypertension, stroke and congestive heart failure.
Sleep deprivation lowers the level of leptin, an anti-hunger hormone, and so increases
the risk of obesity as well. Conversely, sleeping more than 9 hours per day is
associated with poor health outcomes. However, in this case it is poor health
that causes excessive sleeping, rather than the other way around. So clearly an
optimum amount of sleep, probably about 6-7 hours on average, is important for both
good overall as well as cardiovascular health.
We also know that staying active, generally through an
exercise regimen enhances cardiovascular health. The U.S. national guidelines
for exercise now recommend a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderately
strenuous endurance exercise, with the optimal amount being about 300 minutes
per week. Additionally, at least twice a week, muscle strengthening exercise is
Exercise lowers blood pressure, helps us to maintain
ideal body weight, burns off stress hormones, keeps joints, muscles and bones
healthy and improves our metabolism. Exercise lowers blood sugar and bad
cholesterol and helps to raise good cholesterol. It also enhances our
psychological well-being through release of endorphins and makes us feel good
about accomplishing a task that keeps us healthy and vital. People who exercise
for 60 minutes per day at moderate intensity live an average of 3.7 years
longer, and also have 3.2 years of additional disease-free life than those who
Given the proven health benefits of both sleep and
exercise, which do you give up when your busy schedule says you can’t do both?
The right answer should be neither! Both are very important. In fact, according
to research from the Sleep Disorders center at Northwestern University in
Chicago, a good night’s sleep
results in better and more prolonged exercise sessions later that day. However,
fewer hours of sleep frequently lead to reduced motivation to exercise. Furthermore,
exercise can improve the quality of sleep, with strong evidence that indicates
that deep sleep is more restorative and effective for memory, performance and
words, exercise and sleep share an intertwined relationship. Robbing yourself
of exercise or sleep is counterproductive to good health. Therefore, rather
than compromising either sleep or exercise, a better approach is to look at
your life and figure out what you can swap for exercise and still keep your
sleep. Use the skills of prioritizing and efficient time management to
All of us will have days when we have to sleep less or
miss an exercise session. Don’t let it become a habit. Fight that urge to give
up either tooth and nail. Find some other aspect of your time commitments that
you can do without. Develop the skills to manage your time better.
The ability to prioritize and efficiently manage time are
not natural, but rather are acquired skills. They are developed with the proper
motivation and understanding of your own personal habits and tolerance for
inefficiency. As an example, many people use that 30 minute lunch to get part
of their daily exercise session. Remember, even small exercise sessions of 5-10
minutes are valuable. Taking the stairs, walking fast on errands, and blowing
through a half-hour of housekeeping can accomplish the same as going to the
gym. Einstein was reputed to have taken many 15-20 minute naps to stay mentally
and physically refreshed throughout the day. So, even intermittent and
interrupted sleeping is better than sleep deprivation.
What goes for exercise and sleep applies to so many other
aspects of our life; don’t work harder, work smarter!
To learn more about prevention, treatment and reversal of
heart disease, get the book Don’t Let
Your Heart Attack!, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes.