September 2012
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Examining the Connections Between Sleep, Nutrition & Physical Activity

Trouble Sleeping ImageIt’s common knowledge that regular exercise and a nutritious, well-balanced diet are key ingredients to achieving and maintaining good health.  However a growing body of new research has linked both of these factors to the quality and duration of our sleep, thus emphasizing the vital, yet often overlooked, role that sleep plays in our overall health and wellbeing.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic examined the relationship between sleep deprivation and caloric consumption in young adults. Half the study participants were restricted to approximately 5 hours of sleep each night, about one hour and 20 minutes less than the control group. Researchers found that the sleep deprived group consumed an average of 549 calories more each day than the control group, thus concluding that even modest sleep deprivation may promote obesity. ¹ This connection between poor sleep and increased caloric intake is attributed to two hormones that regulate appetite. People who are sleep deprived tend to have higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger, and lower levels of leptin, a hormone that provides a feeling of fullness.

Many studies have also examined the link between sleep and physical activity.  In a systematic review conducted by researchers at National Taiwan University, adults who regularly performed an exercise training program scored higher on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, had a shorter sleep latency and used fewer sleep medications that a control group. ²  In a separate study, adults with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) that participated in a moderate intensity aerobic exercise and resistance training program reported significant improvements in depressive symptoms, fatigue and vigor, and quality of life compared to a low-intensity stretching control group.³ 
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Almonds ImageAlmonds

The almond tree is native to the Middle East and South Asia. Although the almond belongs to the same Prunus genus as the peach, it differs from other members because it has a shell surrounding its seed. The almond nut is technically the fruit of the almond tree.

Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats, which have been associated with reduced risk of heart disease. Numerous studies, including the Nurses’ Health Study and the Physicians Health Study, have found that nut consumption is linked to lower risk of heart disease. Many people steer clear of nuts due to their high caloric content, however a new study from the US Department of Agriculture found that almonds have 20 percent fewer calories than previously thought. Researchers now say that a 28 g serving of almonds has 130 calories, rather than 170 calories, as listed on most nutrition labels. This reduced caloric content is because our bodies are not able to absorb all of the fat in the almond.⁴
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ActiTrainer ImageRegular Exercise Linked to Reduced Cognitive Decline

Exercise offers many physical benefits, but according to a new study presented at the 2012 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, it can also improve the mental health of older adults.5 This study followed 120 adults, ages 60 to 80, who did not have Alzheimer’s and had been sedentary for the past 6 months. They were randomly assigned to a moderate intensity walking group or a stretching-toning control group. The focus of the study was on the size of the anterior hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, and the amount of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Both of these areas of the brain are involved in memory functions, and BDNF is vital to the development of new neurons.

Subjects that had walked moderately for 30 to 45 minutes, three days a week over the past year, had a 2% increase in hippocampus volume. The changes in hippocampus volume were positively correlated with serum levels of BDNF. Higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness were also linked with a larger prefrontal cortex. 5
  1. Calvin, Andrew D., Carter, Rickey E.; Levine, James A., Somers, Virend K. Insufficient Sleep Increases Caloric Intake but not Energy Expenditure. Circulation. 2012; 125: AMP030
  2. Yang PY, Ho KH, Chen HC, Chien MY. Exercise training improves sleep quality in middle-aged and older adults with sleep problems: a systematic review. J Physiother. 2012; 58(3):157-63.
  3. Kline CE, Ewing GB, Burch JB, Blair SN, Durstine JL, Davis JM, Youngstedt SD. Exercise training improves selected aspects of daytime functioning in adults with obstructive sleep apnea. J Clin Sleep Med. August 2012; 8(4):357-65.
  4. Novotny JA, Gebauer SK, Baer DJ. Discrepancy between the Atwater factor predicted and empirically measured energy values of almonds in human dietsAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition.2012 ajcn.035782; First published online July 3, 2012.doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.035782
  5. The Influence of an Aerobic Exercise Intervention on Brain Volume in Late Adulthood.
    Kirk Erickson1, Andrea M. Weinstein1, Timothy D. Verstynen1, Michelle W. Voss2, Ruchika Shaurya Prakash3, Jeffrey Woods2, Edward McAuley2, Arthur F. Kramer2
    1University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States; 2University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois, United States; 3Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, United States.

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