Why getting fit gets easier on a good night’s sleep

A couple of years ago I had the bad luck to catch a virus that my two year old daughter picked up at her daycare. Thankfully she only got a mild cold. I got viral myocarditis – basically the virus went into my heart and caused loads of very painful inflammation.

Until that point I was doing reasonably well with sticking to an exercise routine. But after the illness I could barely walk up a flight of stairs. And if I did make it up the stairs I’d have to rest for a few minutes to recover. Suddenly I was in the worst shape of my life.

So as an exercise physiologist I decided to use myself as a test subject and experiment. I went back to my research and explored what was needed to get back into good physical condition as fast as I could, and to lose as much body fat as possible. I wanted to get fit and get lean.

National Post: Greg Wells, author of Superbodies, on finding his own fragility

Greg Wells is the author of Superbodies, a scientist, physiologist and health professor at the University of Toronto. The 41-year-old has biked across Africa, ran marathons in the arctic and spent 16 years advising Olympic athletes and coaches.

Arguably one of Canada’s most qualified health experts, Wells acted as the sports science analyst on CTV during the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games. On the day when the kinesiology professor thought he might die, however, Wells was unable to make sense of his own body.

“I was lying in bed completely relaxed and my heart rate was 85 — double what it normally should be,” Wells says, in an interview at his office at Sick Kids hospital, where the scientist conducts experiments on diseases related to the muscles and lungs.

“I checked myself into the hospital with my own work badge and said, ‘My heart’s going crazy.’ Then I sat back and asked myself: ‘If I’m done, am I OK with that? Yeah, I’m good.’ It created a sense of calm and after that it was: ‘All right, let’s get healthy.’ ”


Kinesiologist Greg Wells talks discusses his book 'Superbodies', about what makes world-class athletes unique. Listen   (7:52)


Our busy work schedules and home responsibilities leave us with less time to get proper rest. One of the most important aspects of rest is our sleep. Often people have trouble getting the recommended 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep that we need to maintain our physical and mental wellbeing. And poor quality sleep has consequences beyond just feeling tired. According to a research study by National Sleep Foundation, around 12 percent people are late for work due to sleepiness, 29 percent fall asleep while working and 26 percent of people feel drowsy when they drive back from work. It is an alarming situation as we carry countless risks due to improper/ lack of sleep. Research has also shown that poor sleep quality or too few hours sleep may increase inflammation -- a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta suggest people with chronic sleep lacks may have higher levels of inflammation, and they found those sleeping 6 or fewer hours a night had higher levels of three inflammatory markers including C-reactive protein – a physiological marker associated with a number of diseases.