The Surprising Links Between Sleep, Exercise and Breast Cancer

Being active, carrying out exercise and breast cancer are known to be linked, with those who are more active having a reduced risk of cancer. But when you’re lying in bed warm and comfortable and the alarm goes off for your early morning workout it can be hard to find the motivation to ‘get up and go’.

Now a new study examines how a lack of sleep might blunt the effectiveness of all that exercise in reducing your cancer risk.

According to a ten year study of nearly 6,000 women led by James McClain, Ph.D., a cancer prevention fellow at the National Cancer Institute, people at the top half of the physical activity levels had a 25% reduction in their cancer risk.

But, if you were a woman from 18 to 65 years old who got about an hour a day of moderate activity yet slept fewer than 7 hours a night, much of the exercise benefit was lost.

Of course this group still had a reduced risk compared to those women who exercised the least.

The take away message is: be active, but get enough sleep or it won’t do you as much good.

The novel research was presented last month during an international meeting in Washington D.C. on cancer prevention hosted by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).

The next step for researchers is to investigate the mechanisms underlying sleep and exercise to try and understand the role of each in preventing cancer.

“The important thing to remember here is that nobody was protected unless they were active,” McClain says. “So I certainly don’t think the take-home message is to sacrifice activity to get more sleep. But I think it needs to be more of a conscious thought that both physical activity and sleep are important factors for young to middle-aged women.”

There are any number of health problems that come as the result of a lack of sleep…

Glucose intolerance, imbalances of ghrelin and leptin (appetite regulators), increases in C-reactive proteins in the blood as well as other problems.

And of course during sleep our healing processes are engaged allowing our bodies to recover better from exercise. A good nights sleep also reduces the levels of stress hormones in the body, meaning that psychologically you are more able to face the day and any exercise regime you may have planned.

Getting the right amount of sleep for you gives you the energy you need to be more active and function at peak performance throughout the day.

If you find you’re struggling to sleep, which many people do as they age be sure to practice good sleep habits to ensure you get the rest you need.

The study didn’t make specific recommendations on how much exercise would be enough, but McClain suggest using the government’s physical activity guidelines as a starting point. They suggest getting at least 5 hours of modest exercise, or 2½ hours of intense exercise per week.

The good thing is that normal household chores slot under the modest exercise banner, so you can count that towards your total for the week.

Many women understand the link between exercise and breast cancer, and are starting to increase their levels of activity, but the link between sleep and cancer shines a new light on the need to also ensure sufficient rest is taken each day as well.

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