Why it’s Important to Balance Sleep, Exercise and Healthy Eating
Sleep, regular exercise and nutrition all have a direct impact on our health and well-being, each linking to the other. Keeping them in balance is especially important when we face stressful times in our lives.
Picture your health as a stool with three legs. If one leg is a little shorter than the others, the whole stool is unbalanced and "out of whack."
Life has a way of trying to knock us off balance with new stressors daily due to jobs, family or forces beyond our control. When sleep, healthy eating and exercise begin to crumble, a frustrating cycle starts. Poor nutrition can affect our sleep, which then could lead to poor job performance, more stress and poor choices.
Our job is to find a way to balance these stressors to protect our physical and mental health and keep our stool upright.
Sleep, weight gain and stress
Poor sleep is linked to weight gain, which in turn is linked to multiple diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, depression and infertility.
Sleep deprivation causes an increase in the hunger hormone ghrelin, and a decrease in leptin, the hormone that makes us feel full. It also increases the production of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. All of these hormones cause us to eat more, store fat and gain weight when they are out of balance.
Sleep deprivation also decreases self-control and decision-making abilities. The effects are comparable to alcohol intoxication, decreasing our reaction times and accuracy. Getting enough sleep will improve our concentration and productivity.
A good night's sleep also:
- Improves our immune system
- Regulates blood sugar
- Repairs heart and blood vessels
- Triggers the release of the growth hormone in children
- Children under age 12: 9-14 hours of sleep each night
- Teens: 8-10 hours per night,
- Adults: 7-8 hours on average.
Napping can help improve our performance in the short-term but doesn't make up for lost sleep.
Exercise and your physical, mental health
Exercise isn't just good for our physical health. It also reduces anxiety and stress. Plus, physical activity is a tool to fight depression.
Exercise boosts our "feel-good hormones" and endorphins. At the same time, it reduces stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Some people describe the phenomenon of a "runner's high" that improves their mood.
Exercise has also been referred to as "muscular meditation" or "meditation in motion" because it distracts you from your stresses during that time. Exercise also increases confidence, productivity and helps you sleep better.
Regular physical activity lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol and reduces blood sugar. It can decrease the risk of heart attacks, certain cancers like colon and breast cancers, osteoporosis and fractures, obesity, depression, and even dementia. Exercise even slows the aging process, increases energy and prolongs life.
Healthy Eating vs. Comfort Foods
Nutrition and diet are the third pillar in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and reducing stress. Without proper nutrition, we can struggle with sleep and our activity level.
Maintaining healthy eating habits can strengthen our immune system, stabilize our mood, and improve medical conditions like high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.
In times of stress, certain foods help us mitigate those stress factors and combat anxiety. Often people turn to "comfort food" like sweets and chips when they're stressed. These refined carbohydrates, high fat, sugar-filled foods initially dampen stress-related responses and emotions. But the effect is temporary because they lead to blood sugar spikes and eventually crashes. These crashes make us feel worse, more stressed and often depressed.
Here are some healthy food choices to maintain blood sugar and avoid crashes:
- Fatty fish – Fish like salmon and tuna contain Omega-3 can prevent surges in stress hormones.
- Magnesium-rich foods – Green leafy vegetables, spinach, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains can prevent headaches and fatigue.
- Vitamin C – Citrus, tomatoes, red and green peppers, broccoli, kiwi, strawberries, brussels sprouts and cantaloupe are among vitamin C-rich foods that lower the stress hormone cortisol.
- Whole-grain carbohydrates – Sweet potatoes, oats, whole-wheat products like pasta and bread, quinoa and brown rice are among foods that increase serotonin, a hormone that improves mood and energy.
- Water –Even staying hydrated with enough water can decrease our cortisol levels and reduce stress.
Anjali A. Gresens, MD, FACS, is a bariatric surgeon at Sentara Comprehensive Weight Loss Solutions in Norfolk.
By: Anjali A. Gresens, MD, FACS, Sentara Comprehensive Weight Loss Solutions