Ask The Doctor

Exercise and Sleep Critical to Good Health

Dear Dr. Garner,

As the song goes “I don’t get around much anymore.”

I heard a story on the news last week that said elderly people who have trouble getting around should at least be getting off the sofa and doing the best they can to walk around the room or whatever activity they can do. Have you heard about this? It is supposed to make your heart better.

Also, I read something about diabetes being caused by lack of sleep. Is this true?

Stuck in Sunset Park


Dear Stuck,

Older people who had trouble getting around were the focus of the study you heard about on the news. It seems that just sitting on the sofa all day is a significant risk factor for heart disease. We have already discussed in a previous article the effects of sedentary behavior as a key risk factor for heart disease.

The study looked at many people across the county and examined their lifestyle and its effect on the heart. The study showed that even small amounts of moderate activity, such as getting up off the sofa and walking around the room yielded an improvement in physical stature and a decrease in heart disease.

Again, we are not talking about strenuous activity at the gym, but simple housekeeping, walking around the block or taking the stairs. This type of exercise helps the heart at any age.

Some of the benefits of exercise include reduced heart disease, decreased risk of colon and breast cancer and reduced risk of diabetes and depression. There is also an overall sense of well-being and improvement in strength and endurance. Moderate exercise has even been shown to help quit smoking.

Sleep-Diabetes Connection
Along with exercise, sleep is critical to good health. A study that was released last week found that sleep deprivation can not only make you cranky, but can also bring on diabetes. Sleep may be as important as exercise or diet when it comes to preventing diabetes.

The study showed that people who slept six hours or fewer per night were twice as likely to develop diabetes in their lifetime as those who slept seven hours.

Even if you are slim and fit, if you are not getting enough sleep, you are putting your health in jeopardy. Not getting enough sleep causes the body’s control center, where all of the hormones are balanced, to go haywire. Eventually, sleeplessness may cause the insulin-producing cells to stop working properly, leaving one with diabetes.

The less you sleep, the more likely you are to overeat. When you are tired, the body produces extra hormones that cause your appetite to increase. A lack of sleep poses the greatest danger to those who are already predisposed to diabetes. This would include anyone who has a strong family history or who is overweight.

In 1960, Americans used to get eight hours of sleep per night, now we get seven hours of sleep. During this time period there has been a dramatic rise in diabetes.

How can we lower this risk? First, we need to figure out the ideal amount of sleep that one needs. Contrary to popular belief, eight hours isn’t always the gold standard. Anywhere from seven-and-a-half to nine hours may be good for people depending on things such as age or hereditary factors.

The general rule is that if you feel rested when you wake up, it is a good marker that you are getting enough sleep. If you feel sluggish and tired all day, you are putting yourself at higher risk for diabetes.

The good news is that the sleep and diabetes connection is reversible. By getting more sleep each night, you can drastically reduce your risk of developing diabetes. A daily nap may help and should be no more than 30-40 minutes long and taken at least six hours before bedtime.

I thank you for your question. I hope it steers our readers on the right track to good health!

Dr. Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on NET TV, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Channel 97, Cablevision Channel 30 and Verizon FiOS on Demand.

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