How To Know If You Should Hit The Gym Or Press The Snooze Button
Time is a valuable thing, and it seems like we never have enough of it. So, naturally, we often find ourselves debating what to do with it. For example, should we catch up on our sleep or make time for our favorite group fitness class?
We know that engaging in regular exercise is crucial for optimal mental and physical health. But getting solid shut-eye is also imperative for staying healthy. So which one is more important? We compared the importance of quality sleep with the importance of regular exercise by looking at six of the most evident ways in which they both impact our health. Here’s what we found.
1. Skin Health
Quality Sleep: The “beauty sleep” that we’ve been hearing about since childhood actually is a real thing. The Human Growth Hormone that kicks in while we sleep helps our skin repairs itself by counteracting any daytime damage, so getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night will make it look better for longer.
Additionally, your skin makes new collagen when you sleep, which makes it plumper and less likely to wrinkle over time. Some experts say that only getting five hours of sleep per night could lead to developing twice as many fine lines as you would if you were getting seven hours. During quality sleep, your body boosts blood flow to your skin, which is why you wake up with a healthy glow. Therefore, if you skimp on sleep, your complexion is likely to suffer.
Regular Exercise: Regular exercise that gets your heart pumping promotes healthy circulation and increases blood flow. An increase in blood flow brings more oxygen and nutrients to your body’s cells — including your skin — which helps repair sun damage and free radical build-up, keeping your skin healthy and vibrant. When you’re sweating it out at the gym, your pores dilate, allowing your skin to get rid of any dirt and oil that may be trapped inside. If you remember to wash your face after you exercise, this could mean fewer breakouts and blackheads.
2. Memory and Concentration
Quality Sleep: If you’re not getting enough sleep every night, you might find that it’s more difficult for you to concentrate and remember things during the day. Research suggests that our memories become stable in our minds while we sleep. Rapid eye movement sleep (REM) plays a critical role in forming the kind of memory that allows us to recall how to do something. So if you’re not getting regular, quality shut-eye, your memory could be impacted for the worse. Plus, feeling sleepy after a restless night makes your focus and attention drift, hurting your concentration during the day, which can hinder your performance at work or at school.
Regular Exercise: Exercising frequently could help protect your memory. Research says that regular exercise, specifically the aerobic kind, boosts the size of your hippocampus — the area of your brain that’s involved in verbal memory and learning. Working out also stimulates the release of growth factors in your brain, and these chemicals stimulate the growth of new blood vessels in the brain and increase the survival rate of new brain cells. Staying active can also help you focus and more easily ignore distractions. A 2014 study found that U.S. children who engaged in after-school sports classes improved their ability to concentrate and stay focused during school as they got more fit.
3. Heart Health
Quality Sleep: Studies have found that even healthy people who don’t get enough sleep are at a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. Scientists aren’t entirely sure why getting less sleep has a negative impact on our heart health. One theory: When your body doesn’t get enough rest time, certain chemicals keep your blood pressure and heart rate from hitting extended periods of ideal low rates. Experts have found that over time, this could lead to higher blood pressure during the day and a greater chance of developing cardiovascular problems.
On the flipside, getting seven to nine hours of quality sleep allows your body to let your heart rate and blood pressure come down at night, which decreases how hard your heart has to work and helps protect it in the long run.
Regular Exercise: Working out consistently lowers your blood pressure and resting heart rate and increases blood circulation — all of which help take work off of your heart. Both cardio and weight training are beneficial for your heart, but in different ways. When you do cardio exercises (like running, cycling or HIIT), you’re increasing the blood flow to your muscles, as well as the volume of blood that’s returning to your heart. Over time, this causes the left ventricle of your heart to literally grow, which makes your heart more efficient by allowing it to eject more blood per beat, even at rest. If you keep up with your cardio every week, you can eventually experience a decrease in your resting heart rate.
Strength training benefits your heart through muscle contractions. When you’re lifting weights, your muscles put pressure on and close the blood vessels that flow through them. This leads to a temporary increase in blood pressure in the rest of your body, which causes your heart to fight against a stronger force to push blood out. The heart eventually adapts to this increased pressure by thickening the left ventricle wall. This adaptation is healthy and can lower your resting heart rate over time as well.
4. Energy Levels
Quality Sleep: Studies have shown that getting even just 30 minutes less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night can decrease your alertness the next day. Your body needs an adequate amount of solid shut-eye in order to restore good brain cell function every night. So if you’re skimping on sleep, your coordination and critical thinking skills will suffer, making it harder for you to perform your best the next day — both mentally and physically.
Getting quality sleep can help increase your energy levels, which will boost your performance at the gym. A study published in The New York Times followed a group of athletes over a three-week period and, after doing nothing different except for increasing the amount that they slept each night, these athletes saw a significant improvement in their overall performance — including faster sprint times, longer endurance and a decrease in their resting heart rates.
Regular Exercise: It might sound counterintuitive, but working out when you’re feeling tired can actually increase your energy levels. Multiple studies on the effect of exercise on energy levels found that the majority of sedentary people reported being less fatigued and more energized after starting a regular exercise program. This is due in part to the fact that when an inactive person starts exercising regularly, the blood flow that carries oxygen and nutrients to muscle tissue will increase, improving the muscles’ ability to produce more energy. Hitting the gym for a sweat sesh before work can be just as effective at waking you up as drinking your morning cup of coffee — and, arguably, a lot healthier.
5. Weight Managment
Quality Sleep: Sleep deprivation can alter and disrupt levels of the two hormones that are responsible for controlling our appetite and satiety, ghrelin and leptin. If you’re averaging four to five hours of sleep a night, the levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin will increase in your body, whereas levels of the hormone leptin (which is responsible for making you feel full) will decrease. This shift in hormone levels causes you to crave more food than you’d usually eat when well-rested.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, the quality of the food that you choose to eat could also decrease. Studies have shown that sleep-deprived people tend to crave foods that are higher in calories and sugar — AKA junk foods. If you find yourself constantly craving sugary donuts and salty chips, your lack of good sleep might be to blame.
Regular Exercise: It’s no surprise that regular exercise can help you reach and maintain your ideal weight. While working out on the reg has many benefits, weight management is often one of the main reasons that many of us choose to exercise. To maintain your current weight, you need to burn as many calories as you consume daily, and to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. Exercise can help burn off some of these extra calories. But some people feel more hungry after a workout, which usually causes them to eat more, which could negate any increase in calorie expenditure from exercise. In order for exercise to be an effective weight management tool, it needs to be combined with a healthy diet.
6. Stress Reduction
Quality Sleep: Research has demonstrated that being sleep deprived makes you more emotionally reactive, more impulsive and more easily affected by negative stimuli. All three of these things can make you more stressed. Getting great sleep improves your ability to concentrate, regulates your mood, sharpens your judgment and improves your decision-making abilities — all things that make it easier for you to deal with whatever’s thrown at you throughout the day without getting overly stressed.
Regular Exercise: Even a moderate amount of exercise boosts your body’s production of endorphins (your brain’s feel-good hormones), which typically reduces your stress levels and relaxes you. What’s more, when you’re engaged in a vigorous workout, you’re not typically thinking about what’s stressing you out, so exercise can allow you to disconnect from your worries for a while. Regular exercise has also been found to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression. So if you’re feeling anxious or stressed, you might benefit from hitting the gym.
Both quality sleep and regular exercise are crucial for a healthy body and mind, but it’s important to note that if you’re not getting enough sleep, you won’t have the energy required to give it your all during your next workout. Exercising when you’re overly tired could also lead to injuries.
So the next time you wake up for a morning workout feeling exhausted, you might want to consider catching up on sleep rather than hitting the gym. But don’t make a habit of it! Physical activity is too important to skimp on regularly. Even if you don’t have time to go to the gym for an hour-long workout, you can still incorporate exercise into your day by walking or biking to work and taking the stairs whenever possible.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Say hello to the best part of your day.