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Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 380 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

There simply does not seem to be enough hours in the day to accomplish both sleep and exercise. Yet both are super important for long-term health and wellness.

You may have heard that most adults need 6-8 hours of sleep each night. We’re learning that, for most healthy adults, a minimum of 7 uninterrupted hours of sleep each night is the sweet spot. Sleeping for 7 hours each night allows the body enough time to go in and out of deep, restorative sleep (often called REM sleep) which helps repair and replenish the body’s cells, especially the immune system (our body’s natural defense against harmful bacteria and viruses).

We also know that regular exercise is vital for overall health and wellness. Long-time listeners of my podcast can probably list at least 5 reasons exercise is so beneficial:

  • it keeps your heart healthy
  • it improves mood
  • it reduces systemic inflammation
  • it keeps your brain young
  • it helps you sleep longer and deeper

That’s right! Regular physical activity helps you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Now check out the health benefits of getting adequate sleep and see if there are any that sound familiar.

  • it keeps your heart healthy
  • it improves mood
  • it reduces systemic inflammation
  • it keeps your brain young

Hmm… But at the same time, if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, you won’t be motivated to exercise. So it’s no surprise that both of these behaviors are very dependent on each other

Many will often sacrifice their sleep in order to squeeze in a workout. For example, you may wake up after only 5.5 hours of sleep to go to the gym before heading off to work or school. Or you may end up only getting 5.5 hours of sleep because you went to bed late the night before to squeeze in that evening run.

Here's my bottom line: I would place getting adequate sleep just slightly above exercise. Again, only slightly.

Getting those 7 uninterrupted hours of solid sleep may prevent damage to muscles and will reduce your risk for injury when you are working out which gives sleep a slight edge. But that doesn’t mean that you should skip being active completely. Remember: the Surgeon General admits that breaking up your activity into small increments throughout the day still leads to health benefits. So even if you don’t have time to get in that 30 min workout, taking the stairs instead of the elevator still counts towards your physical activity for the day. Walking to and from class counts. Doing chores around the house counts. All of these add up to your physical activity quota and still provide health benefits.

What if you’re looking for something a little more intense?

The other day, I was running late for a meeting but I knew I wanted to squeeze in a quick workout before I headed to the office. I used to be one of those melodramatic fools that believed if I’m not spending at least 45 minutes at the gym, then I’m not getting in a good workout. But I’ve come to learn how wrong I was.

So when I was running late for a meeting the other day, I finished a 7.5 minute workout at home… with no equipment. And I was completely gassed! The workout took only 7.5 minutes and yet I felt so accomplished… and I got in a solid workout.

If you’re strapped for time, run a mile as fast as you can. For most folks, it should take you no more than 8 minutes. Boom, you’re done. Hit the showers and go on with your day.

How do you know whether the activity you just finished was worthwhile? Ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Am I breathing heavily? If yes, perfect. If you’re breathing heavily, it means your heart is working hard.
  2. Do any of my muscles feel fatigued? If yes, then, you’ve worked those muscles adequately.

Getting in some solid physical activity does not have to come at the expense of getting enough sleep. There are enough hours in the day to accomplish both… you just may have to be a little creative.

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 380 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

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Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik ("Dr. Neal") is currently a professor at California State University, San Bernardino. Before this, he served as Department Chair at Bastyr University California. Dr. Neal has also published peer-reviewed scientific research and presented at national conferences. Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
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