intense workouts

  1. Move more, sleep better

    Sometimes, the simplest things are hardest to get -- like a good night's sleep.

    If you're up late burning the midnight oil working a job that requires you to be available around the clock, there's not much I can do for you other than suggest a new line of work.

    But if you go to bed at a reasonable hour each night only to find yourself staring at the ceiling, watching the clock and wondering what's on TV as the minutes turn to hours, there are some simple steps you can take right now to help get to sleep quicker -- and stay asleep longer.

    And it starts with getting more active during the daytime.

    Oregon State University researchers looked at data on more than 2,600 adult men and women in just about every age group -- from 18 to 85 -- who wore accelerometers to measure their daily activities for a week.

    Those who got at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of more intense workouts a week had a 65 percent boost in sleep quality -- and, as a result, they were less likely to report feeling tired during the day.

    Not feeling tired during the day on its own would be a huge improvement for many of us -- especially during those late afternoon doldrums that often lead to one more cup of coffee (or two).

    But the benefits didn't end there -- the people who got more activity were better able to handle being tired: They were 45 percent less likely to report concentration problems once drowsiness set in.

    And once they were in bed, they were 68 percent less likely to experience those annoying leg cramps that can keep you up at night.

    Of course, the study doesn't directly prove that more activity and exercise leads to better sleep -- but it's a connection that's been made before.

    And you don't need to join a gym, lift weights or train for a marathon to get the benefits (which go well beyond better sleep). Everything from gardening to a brisk walk in the park counts as moderate activity -- so find something you enjoy, and stick with it.

    But while more activity might lead to better sleep, don't get your exercise right before bed. In addition to an adrenaline boost that might keep you up at night, exercise can also raise the body temperature -- and while you might prefer a warm bed, the best way to sleep is with a cool body.

    I'm not done with sleep yet -- keep reading for some great natural sleep aids.

  2. When it comes to exercise, less is more

    Everyone should make sure they get moving during the day -- but no one needs to turn into a treadmill-racing workout fiend to get the benefits of exercise.

    In fact, too much exercise can be as bad for you as too little -- bad for you knees, bad for your heart and maybe even bad for your mood.

    One new study finds that women who exercise moderately -- in other words, get the steady regular movements they need without overdoing it -- are actually much happier than women who exhaust themselves during intensive gym sessions.

    Turkish researchers randomly assigned 255 women between the ages of 40 and 60 years old to one of two two-week workout regimens: Either 30 minutes a day on a treadmill at a moderate pace, or a run-till-you-drop session where they were told to go as fast as they could on that treadmill for as long as they could take it.

    Sound like fun? Of course it doesn't -- and the results speak for themselves: The moderate exercisers had a better mood, lower levels of anxiety, higher levels of psychological wellbeing and more energy than those assigned to the torture-like workout sessions.

    Women who got the intense workouts, on the other hand, were less likely to report the confidence to keep going with their exercise program. Overweight women in particular were stressed out by the more vigorous workouts and reported lower levels of calmness afterwards.

    Who wouldn't?

    Whether you're a man or a woman -- and whether you're badly overweight or slim and trim -- you don't have to drive yourself to the brink of physical exhaustion to get the benefits of a light workout.

    Just pick something you like -- and like the women in this study, you can enjoy some mood-boosting benefits along with your great fitness: At least one study has shown that a little sweat-inducing activity can be as powerful as antidepressant drugs… with none of the side effects.

    Good examples of moderate workouts include traditional ones like tennis or a brisk walk/jog through the park, to a few things you might not think of as "exercise" -- like gardening or even some home improvement projects.

    In fact, keeping fit can actually be -- dare I say it? -- fun.

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