How Exercise Can Make You Happy

"I've Got Insomnia"

Gabby Rosenthal, 27, senior account executive

Rosenthal's Custom Plan

  • Outdoor runs three times a week, starting with 2 miles and increasing to 6.6 miles
  • Yoga or Pilates twice a week at New York Sports Club
  • Circuit training for 60 minutes one or two times a week

Why the Plan Works

"Gabby puts in 60-hour weeks, so she has to get her exercise in early and make the most of it," Sarvarian says. "She had been a runner in the past, so I thought it would be fun to help her train for a race. It's motivating to have a goal." Getting sunlight in the morning can also help reset Gabby's biological clock so she'll fall asleep more easily at night. And circuit training, as well as more relaxing options like yoga, will tire her out, so she can sleep longer and more soundly.

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The Science

In a 2010 study, researchers at Northwestern University put people with insomnia on a 16-week exercise program, starting with walking, riding a bike or jogging for 10 to 15 minutes at a time; by week six, they were doing 30 to 40 minutes, four times a week. Afterward, subjects reported a significant bump in the quality of their shut-eye—they fell asleep faster, slept more hours, experienced better moods and felt more alert during the day.

Rosenthal's Hurdle

"My plan called for exercising in the morning, but I'm a night owl," Rosenthal says. "Waking up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. was brutal, especially at first. The alarm would go off and I'd think, Nooo!!!"

Her Day Three Breakthrough

"On my third night, I had my first really great night's sleep—I slept like a baby instead of waking up several times like I usually do. It was wonderful, especially when I had more energy during my morning run. The same thing happened on day six—I slept for 11 hours! I tried to make a conscious effort to turn off the TV and go to bed earlier. Sleeping well helps me exercise harder, which helps my state of mind, which helps me sleep. Upward spiral!"

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How She Surprised Herself

"During my third week, I had a big event to plan for, and I wasn't able to exercise nearly as much. My sleep suffered, and my mood did, too. But that week ended on a high: I ran a 5K! I used to be a runner, but I hadn't done it for a year before this program. My goal was to finish in 35 minutes, and I finished in 32!"

Six Weeks Later

"It used to be hard for me to fall asleep and stay asleep. In the morning, I'd have trouble waking up and I'd be groggy all day. Now I sleep more soundly. The harder I work out, the deeper I sleep. I don't know if it's the extra sleep, the endorphin boost or the pound or two of weight I've lost, but since starting the program, I feel more on my game, like I've got a bit of a swagger. I'm doing my thing—and feeling good about myself."

Your Sleep-Better RX

Three days of moderately intense cardio 45 to 60 minutes + one or two days of a.m. outdoor exercise 60 to 90 minutes + one or two days of yoga or tai chi = more zzz's.

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