Dr. Philippe Beaulieu explains the benefits of walking on sleep!

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Doctor Philippe Beaulieu, a sleep specialist, cognitive-behavioral therapist and hypnotherapist, explains the benefits of daily walking on sleep quality! Does walking have a role to play in the quality of our sleep? Dr. Beaulieu answers WeWard's questions!

How can daily walking play a role in the quality of sleep?

Philippe Beaulieu: “Walking has direct and indirect effects on our sleep. First of all, during the day, physical exercise increases the body's energy expenditure and thus strengthens the "pressure" to sleep in the evening.

The quality of sleep depends on the quality of wakefulness during the day. By consuming energy, we produce "degradation products" whose quantity ultimately "programs" the intensity of the sleep command for the evening.

Then, there is a second mechanism dependent on our biological clock. Our sleep system responds to a chronobiological mechanism, automatic, independent of our will, which is encoded in our genes.

We are thus programmed to have a phase of sleep during the night during which the body implements all the major functions of sleep (physical and mental recovery, hormonal secretions, etc.).

The day, on the other hand, is a phase of wakefulness. There is also a moment called the "semi-circadian trough" in the middle of the day, corresponding to the time when our body needs a bit of recovery... this is the famous "nap".

If this rhythm is automatic, we still need to send it "the right signals" for it to function optimally! What is interesting about physical exercise during the day is that it reinforces our natural rhythm. We have two natural peaks of form during the day: Late in the morning and in the mid/late afternoon. If we exercise at these times, we thus strengthen the natural signal and give ourselves even more chance to regulate the signal for the night.”

How does the circadian rhythm, an internal biological rhythm of about 24 hours that regulates various physiological and behavioural functions in living beings, work and what is the role of physical activity in its functioning?

Philippe Beaulieu: “It reinforces the signals! We call these synchronizers. This means that even if the biological clock is "automatic", it still needs to be regulated. We are programmed to be awake during the day, so if we improve the "signal" by practicing physical activity, we send the right signal during the day, and our internal clock will send us the right sleep signal in the evening.

In addition, as we have said, by practicing physical exercise... I accumulate more energy waste and increase my sleep pressure in the evening.

And let's not forget that walking, like any physical activity, has a positive effect on mental health. By helping to better regulate stress and anxiety, to improve mood... it also positively influences sleep quality.

Physical activity thus has a double beneficial effect on sleep... directly thanks to the reinforcement of the biological rhythm and the energy expenditure which increases the pressure of sleep... and also an indirect effect through the positive impact it has on mental health.”

As a doctor, do you usually promote walking to your patients?

Philippe Beaulieu: “Of course! There are three main pillars of health. Sleep, nutrition, and physical activity. When we start to act on one of these 3 pillars, we must not forget the other two!

This is often emphasized for physical health... but for mental health, for sleep, physical activity is more than advice. It's a treatment! In the context of depression, many studies have shown the beneficial effects of physical activity as a preventive factor against possible relapses. And as we have just said for the regulation of sleep mechanisms, this is important!

Of course, the type and nature of physical exercise depend on the individual, depending on age or experience in practice.

And this is where walking is extremely interesting, because it is accessible to everyone!
Moreover, a study comparing different types of physical activities and their effects on sleep quality, showed in the end that regular walking seemed more beneficial than more sustained exercises. The regularity of physical effort, even less intense, is more important for increasing sleep quality than a very intense but too sporadic activity.

Is there a more beneficial time of day for physical activity?

Philippe Beaulieu:” In the four to eight hours before bedtime. Practicing physical activity too close to bedtime can lead to a form of hyper-awakening of the body which can delay falling asleep. Therefore, don’t hesitate to exercise before dinner. However, a small digestive walk can always do you the greatest good!

Ultimately, walking is an activity that is accessible to all, offering considerable benefits for our mental well-being and sleep, especially when practiced regularly and appropriately. Many thanks to Doctor Beaulieu for taking the time to explain the importance of regular physical activity!

Philippe Beaulieu, also author of "Dormir sans médocs, ni tisanes." Éditions Marabout. Photo credit: Astrid di Crollalanza

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