The Most Important Exercise For Your Personal Health and Fitness…Sleep!

Inspiration into Action |“Sleep is the golden chain that ties our health and our bodies together”
(Thomas Dekker}

I am very happy to welcome Jennifer Landis back as our guest writer today. You may remember Jennifer as the Mindfulness Mama, who transformed herself from a chubby, awkward adolescent living a sedentary lifestyle and eating a bad diet into a self-described health nut, avid yogi, runner, wife and mom. Her first post for Happy Living was How Love Makes You Happier and Healthier.  Her post today may surprise you, as it did me when I learned that the most important exercise is something I can easily do, and you can too!

So, here’s Jennifer!

Planks. Push-ups. Squats.

It seems as though fitness professionals tout a new exercise as the exercise with each passing month. While these moves certainly help shape and tone your muscles, they aren’t even close to being the most important exercise when it comes to personal health and fitness:

Sleep is.

Here are the two main reasons why:

  1. Sleep Affects Your Hunger

Hunger isn’t just a mind-over-matter situation. Your body releases two hormones, leptin and ghrelin, to regulate when and how much you eat.

The fat cells produce leptin so your stomach knows it’s full. In other words, a lack of leptin makes you feel hungry. Ghrelin, on the other hand, increases feelings of hunger, slows down metabolism and increases the amount of fat your body stores. A lack of sleep reduces your body’s release of leptin and increases its release of ghrelin, which is obviously only going to make hunger skyrocket.

This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that a lack of sleep can cause you to crave junk foods — the very ones that aren’t particularly going to help you achieve the healthy, fit body and agile mind you aspire to.

One Columbia University study found that a lack of sleep causes the pleasure-seeking part of the brain to light up when seeing images of pepperoni pizza-type foods — more so than they did when participants were well-rested. If that’s not enough, sleep-deprived participants in a Berkeley study had a harder time choosing good foods than those who slept well[1].

  1. Sleep Slows Results at the Gym

A lack of high-quality sleep probably makes you feel stressed out, which isn’t just a feeling without repercussions. In fact, when stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol has a handful of side effects, one being that your body is more inclined to hold onto fat in case your stress is caused by a dangerous, life-threatening situation. Thank you, evolution.

Cortisol also inhibits your body’s release of a growth hormone that boosts its fat-burning and anti-aging abilities. Obviously, this growth hormone is vital as you work out and as you recover from workouts. The less growth hormone in your system, the longer it takes your muscles to feel refreshed and ready for another session.

To that end, muscles suffer when you don’t sleep. A reduced amount of sleep can stall your body’s synthesis of protein, which means it won’t be making any more muscle despite your workouts. Lack of sleep can also contribute to muscle loss and increased chance of injury — and nothing will stall your fitness efforts like a complete inability to exercise due to injury.

As a general gauge, it should take you between ten and fifteen minutes to fall asleep at night — if it takes longer than twenty, you could have a sleep disorder. So, you can see how the inability to fall sleep certainly will not help you achieve the results you want to see at the gym, either.

Get Some Sleep

Obviously, no healthy person will achieve his or her full potential without a good night’s sleep (almost) every night. It might seem like an impossibility to pack your entire day into fewer hours so you can rest the right way, but it’s actually very possible once you get into the habit of making the most of your time. And maybe Matt’s post,  How One Inspiration Transformed the Way I Sleep, about Arianna Huffington’s big wake up call can help too.

Additionally, some experts believe that creating a night-time routine is one of the best ways to improve sleep, and one of the easiest ways to improve your overall health. You might sip warm tea and read a book, listen to relaxing music or simply turn down the lights for as much time as possible before bed just so your brain is as much in the mood to rest as your body is.

After that, slip into the sheets, close your eyes and snooze it out for seven to eight hours. The health benefits, energy, fat burn and self-satisfaction will follow — and, hey, maybe those “miracle” planks, push-ups and squats will be easier and more beneficial now, too.

You can follow Jennifer as I do…

Twitter: @JenniferELandis

[1] MRI scans show how sleep loss affects the ability to choose proper foods

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