Getting a good night’s sleep is a critical component of good health. Especially as you get older. In fact, numerous studies link optimal sleep to a lower risk of developing any number of chronic diseases, including heart disease and Type II diabetes.
Now, many people think that getting more and more exercise can help them to improve the quantity and quality of their sleep. But a new study has shot some pretty serious holes into that overly simplistic theory.
It turns out, there’s a sweet spot of activity that can improve your sleep (and add years to your life). And it’s shockingly less than what the “experts” say you need to reach each day.
I’ll tell you all about that myth-busting study in a moment. But first, let’s back up…
Moderation is key, even for exercise
As you may know, I always recommend just 2.5 hours of light-to-moderate physical activity weekly. Research shows this is the optimal amount you need to improve your health and longevity. And it doesn’t take much to reach that goal. In fact, even regular daily activities like yardwork, gardening, and house cleaning adds up!
But most mainstream researchers still cling to the idea that the more you exercise, the more tired you will get, and the better you will sleep at night.
However, the science doesn’t back up that overly simplistic, one-way formula.
In fact, previous studies show that when people work out strenuously (doing what I call “excess-ercise”), they actually sleep poorly. And then, following a night of poor sleep, they feel as though their “normal workout” wears them down even further. Which isn’t surprising—at least, not to me.
First, as I often report, research consistently shows “excess-ercise” hurts your joints, internal organs, and even your mood. So, it just makes sense that it would also harm your sleep.
Second, for thousands of years, men and women have stayed fit simply by going about their daily activity on a farm or working around their house. Not grinding away on hard, unforgiving pavement or on treadmills and other contraptions in a stinky, sweaty, dark, dank indoor gym.
So now, let’s move on to the new study I mentioned at the beginning of this Dispatch…
How many steps do you need a day?
For this new study, researchers followed 59 middle-aged men and women living in Boston who worked full-time and had expressed concerns they didn’t have enough time to exercise.
The participants wore a high-tech activity tracker—like a Fitbit©—to record their normal steps taken during the course of a day over a four-week period. Some of the activity included normal, useful work around the house.
The participants also answered questions at the start of the study, each day during the four-week study, and at the end of the study about their sleep. For example, they recorded how long it took to fall asleep, how often they woke up during the night, and how refreshed they felt the next morning. They also recorded total hours of sleep.
Then, researchers analyzed the data for each participant—looking at the correlation between how much they moved during the day and how well they slept that night.
Overall, a consistent pattern emerged…
On the whole, the more steps people took, the higher their self-reported sleep quality. But how many steps did the participants need to take daily to get this benefit?
Well, when wearable, high-tech activity trackers like Fitbit© first hit the market, 10,000 steps a day magically emerged as the accepted daily target. But there was never any science to back up that contention.
Now, thanks to this study, we have some real data guiding us toward an achievable target…and it’s much lower than the “experts” told us…
In this study, men and women needed to take just 7,000 steps a day to experience better sleep. That’s just three miles of total walking throughout the course of an entire day.
Plus, it gets even better…
In a similar, larger study of 17,000 women conducted by researchers with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, women who took just 4,000 steps improved their longevity compared to women who took fewer steps. In fact, they were 40 percent less likely to die over the four-year follow-up period than women who took only 2,700 steps a day.
That’s a staggering improvement. (Imagine if any drug could cite that kind of benefit…!)
Plus, the reduction in mortality risk maxed out at about 7,500 steps per day. In other words, the women who walked more than 7,500 steps daily saw no additional boost in longevity.
So, once again, it appears that moderation is the key.
The science clearly shows you don’t need to run a marathon or punish yourself with hours of grueling workouts at a stinky, sweaty, indoor gym, getting over-stimulated, worked-up, and hyper-active in the wrong ways and at the wrong times of the day. Instead, you can improve your sleep—and even your longevity—by simply getting up and moving around a little more.
As Winston Churchill said, “Never run when you can walk. Never walk when you can stand. Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lay down. Never lay down when you can sleep.”
And he was 90 years old, when he died in 1965 (I remember it well), after helping to win two World Wars.
Churchill also said something fitting for the real science of exercise and health: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
You can learn more about the many simple, natural strategies to stay vibrant, youthful, and healthy well into your 70s, 80s, 90s in my online learning protocol, The Insider’s Ultimate Guide to Outsmarting “Old Age.” To learn more, or to enroll today, simply click here.
“How Walking Might Affect Our Sleep.” The New York Times, 10/30/2019. (nytimes.com/2019/10/30/well/move/how-walking-might-affect-our-sleep.html?)
“Association of Step Volume and Intensity With All-Cause Mortality in Older Women.” JAMA Intern Med. 2019;179(8):1105-1112. doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.0899