When you scope out the most nutritious foods in the grocery store, hit the gym almost every day, turn down cigarettes, and put a limit on the number of alcoholic drinks you throw back at happy hour, keeping your heart healthy can feel like a full-time job. But as time-consuming as your health-conscious habits are, you better make sure sleep is on your to-do list, too. Adequate rest can make your existing healthy behaviors even more effective, according to new research published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
In the 12-year study of more than 14,000 men and women ages 20–65, researchers first looked at how effective the combination of diet, exercise, not smoking, and moderate alcohol consumption were in preventing heart disease. Study participants who had adopted all four behaviors were 57% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease—and had a 67% lower chance of dying from heart or blood vessel problems—during the study compared to people who had adopted only one habit or forwent a heart-healthy lifestyle altogether.
Next, the researchers looked at the effect that a good night’s rest had on a heart-healthy lifestyle. Study participants who slept seven or more hours a night in addition to adopting the other four healthy habits were 65% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease and had an 83% lower chance of dying from it.
Although the research doesn’t explain why sufficient sleep further increases the protective benefits of the other healthy habits, the scientists suggest that short sleep duration is linked to higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol level.
The bottom line: If you’re cutting out sleep in order to hit the gym, it might be time to shift your schedule around so you can give your heart the best of both worlds.
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