Aerobic Exercise and Insomnia among Aging Adults

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October 5, 2010

50 percent of middle-aged and older adults complain of chronic insomnia symptoms. A recent study by Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University found that millions of these adults may get some relieve from aerobic exercise. The study is the first to examine the effect of aerobic exercise on middle-aged and older adults with a diagnosis of insomnia. The aerobic exercise trial resulted in the most dramatic improvement in patients' reported quality of sleep, including sleep duration, compared to any other non-pharmacological intervention. Aerobic Exercise and Insomnia among Aging Adults"This is relevant to a huge portion of the population," said Phyllis Zee, M.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and senior author of a paper to be published in the October issue of Sleep Medicine. "insomnia increases with age," Zee said. "Around middle age, sleep begins to change dramatically. It is essential that we identify behavioral ways to improve sleep. Now we have promising results showing aerobic exercise is a simple strategy to help people sleep better and feel more vigorous." The study included 23 sedentary adults, primarily women, 55 and older who had difficulty falling sleep and/or staying asleep and impaired daytime functioning. Women have the highest prevalence of insomnia. After a conditioning period, the aerobic physical activity group exercised for two 20-minute sessions four times per week or one 30-to-40-minute session four times per week, both for 16 weeks. Participants worked at 75 percent of their maximum heart rate on at least two activities including walking or using a stationary bicycle or treadmill. exercise improved the participants' self-reported sleep quality, elevating them from a diagnosis of poor sleeper to good sleeper. They also reported fewer symptoms of depression, more vitality and less daytime sleepiness. "By improving a person's sleep, you can improve their physical and mental health," Zee said. "Sleep is a barometer of health, like someone's temperature. It should be the fifth vital sign. If a person says he or she isn't sleeping well, we know they are more likely to be in poor health with problems managing their hypertension or diabetes." Lead author and research assistant