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Lack of Sleep Wipes Out the Health Benefits of Exercise?

According to a new study presented on November 18, 2008 at the Seventh Annual International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, physical activity can reduce the overall risk of cancer in women. However, the results also showed that these benefits are likely to be lost if you don't get enough sleep.

For the study, researchers followed 6,000 women for ten years after they completed an initial survey in 1998. None of the women had been previously diagnosed with cancer and all were over the age of 18.

Using data from the survey, researchers were able to measure the participant's levels of activity using a scale based on physical activity energy expenditure (PAEE). Then they assessed the relationship between physical activity, sleep duration and incidence of breast and colon cancer.

First, researchers noted a significantly lower risk of cancer in women who scored in the top 50% on the PAEE scale for physical activity. But of the women in the top 50%, those who slept less than 7 hours per night had a higher overall cancer risk... negating much of the exercise benefits.

Scientists don't know exactly how exercising reduces cancer risk. Experts suspect it has something to do with hormone levels, immune health and body mass. According to the author of this recent study, Dr. James McClain, short duration of sleep seems to have an opposing effect on these key hormonal and metabolic functions.

This study appears to add to the already long list of negative health effects associated with not getting enough sleep. Beyond the loss of focus and irritability, lack of sleep can lead to bigger problems like weight gain, increased cancer risk and higher blood pressure.

There are a number of things you can do to get more sleep. Increasing daily activity levels and exercise, avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and high sugar foods are all good ideas.

To help you fall asleep, try making the room completely dark or taking a bath before bed. Playing soothing music or using aroma therapy (like lavender or chamomile) may also help reduce the number of sheep you have to count each night.
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