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Will Exercise Help You Sleep Better?

Research says moving your body more leads to healthier zzz’s, but not all types of exercise work

For people who don’t sleep well, take heart. A growing body of research is pointing to exercise as an effective tool to get better quality rest. It’s critical issue as the National Sleep Foundation discovered in its latest Sleep Health Index. Those who reported less than good sleep quality (67%) also had poor or fair health. Data like this clearly connects the dots between sleep and wellness. That makes evidence about the role of exercise even more pertinent.

While the ability of exercise to reduce stress and anxiety by increasing the amount of happiness-boosting endorphins is well established, its impact on sleep in newer territory. The results are promising and may have some insomniacs jumping for joy.  A number of recent studies have shown that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (like brisk walking) helped participants fall asleep more quickly and increased their time spent sleeping. The moderate descriptor is important. Studies also found that vigorous aerobic activity, like jogging or lifting weights, did NOT have a positive effect on sleep.

How does it work? There’s no definitive answer yet, but the benefits of exercise could be linked to its ability to ease anxiety and depressive symptoms. Or another theory – exercise raises body temperature, then, when you stop, it drops, which may promote sleep. Either way, moving, stretching and strolling is good for you!

Top tips on tapping into the snooze-inducing powers of exercise

  • Plan on 30 minutes of exercise – Research shows getting half an hour of moderate exercise a day can improve your sleep quality by 65%, according to a study published by Oregon State University. That’s the same amount of time you’d spend watching one episode of your favorite sitcom. “Increasingly, the scientific evidence is encouraging as regular physical activity may serve as a non-pharmaceutical alternative to improve sleep,” said Brad Cardinal, a professor of exercise science at OSU.
  • Pick your exercise time carefullyOne study from Japan found those who exercised in the afternoon had a better night’s sleep than those who exercised in the morning. Generally, doctors warn people with chronic sleep problems to stay away from working out within a few hours of bed. The rationale is that exercise raises your body temperature and is stimulating. But that doesn’t always hold true. Some studies have shown that people can exercise close to bedtime and still sleep without a problem. It’s best to experiment and see what time works for you and your lifestyle.
  • Make exercise a habit – Start with a brisk 30-minute walk a few times a week. Fresh air and exercise does wonders for mind, body and soul. If you don’t live in a climate where an outdoor walk is possible, try a simple routine, like the one from Health.com, mixing cardio and strength training in the comfort of your own home. Or join the folks that walk laps around your local shopping mall. Just make sure you don’t stop and window shop. Keep moving to get your heart rate up, too.

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