Sleeping between 6 and 8 hours a night is the recommendation to ensure health and longevity. Often, however, this is not possible and it is at this point that physical activity comes in handy, by counteracting the harmful effects of unhealthy sleep. This is what emerges from a very recent scientific research that appeared in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology and published by a group of Chinese scientists (Liang et al, European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, March 2023).
Physical activity and sleep, two tools to increase longevity
We all sleep and we all move but how we do it can determine, for better or for worse, the state of our health. In fact, avoiding a sedentary lifestyle and regularly practicing moderate physical activity can reduce the risk of disease and premature death by 70%. As far as sleep is concerned, a good restorative sleep lasting 6-8 hours per night is protective for health and increases longevity. However, sleeping less than 6 hours a night or, conversely, more than 8 hours has been shown to increase the risk of disease and premature death. However, it is not always possible to guarantee the right number of hours of sleep. Just think of those who have a very demanding job, those who travel often or those who have sleep problems, but also those who, on the contrary, are used to sleeping many hours. What to do in these cases? Help comes from physical activity. The research we are talking about today managed, for the first time, to understand the health effects of physical activity in the event of unhealthy sleep habits and did so based not on data reported by the volunteers themselves through questionnaires but on data collected objectively and scientifically. But let's try to understand better.
Physical activity undoes harmful effects of poor sleep habits, the study
Researchers recruited 92 221 adults, who had already joined the UK Biobank, a large study that started in 2006 and is still ongoing with the purpose of collecting data on lifestyle and health to understand the causes of the development of diseases.
Therefore, the state of health and its evolution over time was known for all the participants in the study. Volunteers were asked to wear an accelerometer for a week to track daily physical activity and sleep time. What has emerged from the comparison of the data and from the observation of the volunteers over the years is that in sedentary people who sleep less than 6 hours a night or more than 8 hours there is an increased risk of developing fatal diseases, in average this increase was 25%.
Therefore this is further evidence that poor sleep habits can increase the risk of developing diseases, such as cardiovascular disease or cancer, and reduce longevity. However, this increased risk of getting sick disappears, as observed by the study in question, if instead one chooses an active lifestyle, which includes more than 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, or more than 75 minutes a week of more vigorous physical activity, such as a run.
Doing physical activity, even just a brisk walk for just 20 minutes a day, is always good for the body and mood. From today we know that this type of physical exercise, moderate or more intense, can counteract the damage that wrong habits regarding night rest, such as sleeping too little or too long, can cause in terms of diseases and reduced longevity. Walking, running, cycling or swimming, all of these activities, if done on a regular basis, can reduce the risk of illness and premature death, protect health and increase longevity.