by Lars Hundley
Researchers have discovered that physical activity can help mitigate the negative impact of unhealthy sleep durations on life expectancy. A study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, analyzed data from over 90,000 adults and found that increased physical activity levels reduced the mortality risks associated with short or long sleep durations.
Dr. Jihui Zhang, the study’s author, explained that both sufficient exercise and healthy sleep contribute to a longer life expectancy. The study used accelerometer devices to obtain objective and reliable estimates of activity and sleep duration, making it the first of its kind to examine the joint effects of physical activity and sleep duration on mortality risk using accelerometry.
The research revealed that in participants with low amounts of exercise, short and long sleep were associated with 16% and 37% raised risks of all-cause death, respectively. However, in those with high amounts of exercise, sleep duration was not linked with the risk of death. Similarly, for cardiovascular and cancer deaths, the risks associated with short and long sleep durations disappeared when exercise increased to moderate or high volumes.
According to Dr. Zhang, “The study showed that increased physical activity levels weakened the mortality risks associated with short or long sleep duration.”
Zhang concluded that health promotion efforts targeting both physical activity and sleep duration may be more effective in preventing or delaying premature death than focusing on one behavior alone. The study suggests that getting sufficient exercise may partially offset the detrimental impact of missing a good night’s sleep.
About the Study
The study included 92,221 adults aged 40 to 73 years from the UK Biobank cohort, who wore an accelerometer wristband for a week between 2013 and 2015. Sleep duration per night was classified as short (less than six hours), normal (six to eight hours), or long (more than eight hours), and physical activity levels were divided into low, intermediate, and high.
During a median follow-up of seven years, 3,080 participants died – 1,074 from cardiovascular disease and 1,871 from cancer. The researchers examined how physical activity influenced sleep’s impact on mortality, taking into account factors such as age, sex, ethnicity, education level, body mass index, diet, smoking, alcohol intake, and shift work.
Risk of Death Lower for Exercisers with Fewer Hours of Sleep
In participants not meeting the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for moderate to vigorous physical activity, short and long sleep durations were associated with 31% and 20% raised risks of all-cause death, respectively. However, these risks disappeared in those meeting the WHO guidelines. For cardiovascular death, short sleepers who failed to meet the advice on intensity of exercise had a 52% elevated risk, which disappeared in those achieving the recommendations. For cancer death, long sleepers not meeting the advice had a 21% raised risk which disappeared in those following the WHO guidance.
Dr. Zhang emphasized that promoting both physical activity and healthy sleep durations may be crucial in preventing or delaying premature death in middle-aged and older adults. While an ideal scenario would involve consistently getting healthy amounts of both sleep and exercise, the study demonstrates that sufficient exercise can help to counteract the adverse effects of poor sleep on life expectancy.