Harvard Men's Health Watch

Gentler exercise for mind and body is best for sleep

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Just as regular exercise has a host of health benefits for the body, staying mentally active appears to preserve memory and general sharpness. But for getting a good night's sleep, light workouts for both body and brain may be best, according to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The study focused on 72 people, ages 67 to 79, who reported poor sleep as well as declining mental sharpness. They were assigned at random to do either strenuous aerobic exercise or a gentler stretching routine, paired with either watching educational DVDs (followed by short quizzes) or engaging in more demanding computer-based brain training.

The most improvement in sleep came with doing one-hour stretching sessions three times per week paired with watching educational DVDs. This echoes other studies, which have found that gentle stretching and toning with tai chi, qigong (an exercise and breathing regimen similar to tai chi), and yoga improved sleep. The researchers couldn't rule out that more frequent or more strenuous aerobics routines and mental training could match the sleep boost from the gentler regimens.

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