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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 also recommended.


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 do not.


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 physical health.


In other 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 do both.


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.

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  • What’s more important: an extra hour of sleep or exercise?