Bodily exercise could counter adverse results of sleep deprivation

Share on PinterestNew research shows how physical activity and good sleep work together to promote health. Justin Paget / Getty Images

  • Study shows that physical activity and good sleep have synergistic effects on health.
  • Increased physical activity can significantly counteract the negative health effects of poor sleep.

While the negative health effects of physical inactivity and poor sleep have been independently researched and documented numerous times, few studies have focused on the synergistic effects of these factors on mortality.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine examines the common association of physical activity and sleep with cause- and cause-specific mortality risks.

The long-term study tracked over 380,000 middle-aged men and women who are part of the UK Biobank.

Participants completed questionnaires, interviews, and physical measurements to determine their basic state of health, as well as their physical activity level and sleep patterns.

Individuals were excluded from participating in the study if their baseline ratings indicated a history of cardiovascular disease, cancer, sleep apnea, or class 3 obesity.

The researchers rated and summarized the physical activity data using metabolically equivalent task logs. These minutes roughly correspond to the number of calories consumed per minute of physical activity.

Individual physical activity was categorized according to the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO). Categories contain:

  • high (1200 or more minutes per week)
  • medium (600 to less than 1200 minutes per week)
  • low (0 to less than 600 minutes per week)

The researchers defined another category that did not include moderate to vigorous activity per week so they could also assess the effects of inadequate physical activity.

The negative health effects of poor sleep encompass more than just sleep quality or length of time, so the researchers used a novel healthy sleep score.

They used five sleep characteristics – chronotype (night owl vs. morning lark tendency), length of sleep, the presence of insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and snoring – to rate participants on a scale of 0 to 5 or higher), medium (2-3), and poor (0-1).

Using these two assessment methods along with other information provided by the participants, the researchers derived a dozen combinations of physical activity and sleep.

Participants’ health was then tracked through May 2020 or until their death, whichever comes first, to assess their risk of dying from any cause, particularly cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, stroke, and all cancers . These are the most common problems independently associated with poor sleep and minimal physical activity.

Around 15,500 participants died during the observation period.

Approximately 26% of the deaths were from some type of cardiovascular disease; 58% were from all cancers; 12% resulted from coronary artery disease; 2% followed a cerebral hemorrhage stroke; and 3% were from a blood clot stroke.

Those who died during the first 2 years of the study were excluded from the data, as were all who died from COVID-19.

The results of the study show that the lower a participant’s sleep score, the higher their risk of dying from any cause and from all types of cardiovascular disease and a blood clot-related stroke.

Also, those who slept poorly and had no moderate to vigorous physical activity had the highest risk of death from any cause, cardiovascular disease, and cancer of any kind compared to those with high physical activity plus healthy sleep combination.

People who were younger, female, leaner, and financially better off, consumed more fruits and vegetables, spent less time sitting, had no mental health problems, never smoked, drank less alcohol, and were more physically active, tended to sleep healthier scores.

The researchers acknowledge limitations within the study, including the fact that it was an observational study, meaning it was not causal.

The study also relied on self-reported data and excluded potentially influential factors such as occupation, household size, and possible changes in sleep patterns and physical activity over time.

According to the researchers, “poor sleep was associated with a higher risk” [of] All-cause mortality and cause-specific mortality, and these risks were inadequate in participants [physical activity]. “

The study results also suggest that physical activity at or above the WHO recommended lower threshold appeared to eliminate most of the harmful associations of poor sleep and mortality.

The researchers conclude that new evidence supports a synergistic effect of sleep and physical activity on health outcomes. They emphasize the need for future studies to include device-based sleep and physical assessments that target both behaviors at the same time.

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