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What’s Most Important: Sleep, Exercise or Diet?

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Friday, February 16th, 2018
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Sleep, Exercise or food

Q: How do I make an intelligent choice between getting enough sleep, eating well and regularly exercising? I usually sleep when time is tight and stress is high. And I often eat whatever is available rather than spending time to find healthy choices when I’m traveling. Am I better off getting an extra hour of sleep, waking up early to squeeze in my workout or trying to search for a healthy place to eat when I’m hurried?

A: For the most health benefits, you should get at least 7 to 7½ hours of sleep a night, and you should always be able to find 20 to 30 minutes a day to either walk, run, do strength training or do yoga. And always stick to foods that love your body back.

Health isn’t a compromise in which you pick one thing to eliminate. But given the relative value of physical activity, nutritional choices and sleep on your long-term health and rate of aging, not sleeping enough has a smaller impact. Controlling stress, making good nutritional choices and controlling blood pressure have the biggest impact in terms of adding healthy years to your life, followed by stopping smoking and sleeping enough.

We would, of course, recommend you fit in all these health requirements, but if you must, we’re OK with you getting 6 to 6½ hours of sleep to squeeze in exercise.

It should be noted, however, that sleep affects other lifestyle choices. Getting about seven hours of sleep a night can make a profound difference on your brain and heart health. Lack of sleep makes you less mentally aware and more fatigued, causes you to eat more and places you at a higher risk for accidents. Although we recommend eating healthy food and exercising above all else, getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most crucial things you can do for your body.

Sleep triangle

Figure out ways to balance all three components of the health trifecta. If that means reorganizing your life to schedule physical activity and make healthy food ordering automatic, great!

If needed, reschedule other parts of your life where necessary, too. For example, if it means missing a Friends rerun to squeeze in a workout, do it. Try getting the best of both worlds by planning exercise with your children, or simply walking and talking with them.

And if you have to end your relationship with Noah, Colbert and Fallon to hit the pillow a little earlier, so be it. Try recording shows and watching them during your weekend workout. By the way, we advocate a TV and device-free bedroom—use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. It is best to take work materials, computers and TVs out of the sleeping environment.

Your health is your most precious resource. It is not gained by making any sacrifices.

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