North Ottawa Wellness Foundation

Exercise, Movement & Quality Sleep

Exercise, Movement & Quality Sleep

“When it comes to your overall health, exercise and sleep are foundational for leading a balanced lifestyle. A study from the National Sleep Foundation reports that people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. By synchronizing the two, we are better able to enhance our quality of life.” – Holly Severance, Wellness Manager, Shape Family Wellness

Exercise, movement and quality sleep build the foundation for more effectively accessing the Relaxation Response and are critical to our physical as well as psychological well-being.

We are familiar with our doctor’s important suggestions for a consistent exercise routine – 20-30 minutes per session, three to four sessions per week. In addition, research shows that getting this exercise or movement outside, preferably in the morning, in a natural setting such as one of our many magnificent Ottawa County parks, has added health benefits.


Metabolically, exercise clears out cortisol. While adrenaline, with its burst of energy in the heat of the moment, clears more quickly from our system, noradrenaline and cortisol don’t metabolize as quickly and can take a few days to clear from our system, unless we move it out of our bodies through exercise or movement. Additionally, new research shows that quick, brisk physical movement before breakfast, 20 minutes each day, has a more positive effect on our well-being than a workout later in the day. We shed more weight, and don’t exhaust ourselves as easily with a morning exercise or movement practice.


Building self-awareness allows us to find time, even just a few minutes, to get outside and move our bodies. Numerous studies and scientific research now substantiate what poets, authors and artists of all kinds have known for centuries, that a bit of time in nature does the body, and the mind, a great deal of good.

  • According to a recent study, a 15-minute walk in the woods causes measurable changes in physiology, decreasing the stress hormone cortisol by 16%, and lowering both blood pressure and heart rate.
  • A 2008 University of Michigan study showed participants’ memory performance, and attention spans, improved by 20 percent after just an hour of interacting with nature.
  • Locally, our very own North Ottawa Community Health System family practice physician Dr. Stan Haegert, shared, “I’m always relieved when I learn that a new patient loves and spends time outdoors, because I know that means we’re likely to spend less time together dealing with problems like anxiety, depression, obesity and heart disease.” He adds, “Nature is strong medicine.”
  • “The practice of forest bathing, also called forest therapy, involves no bathing and isn’t led by a therapist but a trained, certified guide or guides. In Japan, the practice is decades old and known as shinrin-yoku, which means “taking in the forest.” Among the benefits, say practitioners and some researchers, are relaxation, less stress, connections with nature and, perhaps, insights to take home.” (“Forest Bathing, Nature Time Are Hot Health Advice”)

Exercise and Movement Tips for Families

  • Exercise or move your body in the morning, before breakfast for most effective results.
  • Movement clears cortisol from the body.
  • Move in nature for more stress reduction and increased memory and attention.

Financial Benefits of an Active Lifestyle

Parks Help Lower Health Care Costs

Estimated Deaths Prevented Through Increased Physical Activity

Quality Sleep

Whether you get too much or not enough sleep, the consequences are severe, costing the US health care system a whopping extra $94 billion a year, according to a May 2021 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Researchers from the Harvard Medical School confirmed that a good night’s sleep plays a major role in keeping the doctor away.

Getting less than seven hours of sleep a night, or more than nine hours, on average has been linked to a host of health and safety concerns, including brain fog, fatigue, confusion, motor vehicle accidents, poor work performance, heart conditions and a massive surge in mood-related issues.

Quality sleep is crucial to a balanced state of mind and health. When we make simple changes to our routine to support healthy sleep patterns, we allow our bodies to move through the natural detoxification and rejuvenation of the organs and tissues necessary throughout the night. Sleep is one of the most potent anti-inflammatory actions, as most detoxification and rejuvenation happens between 10pm-2am.

Building self-awareness allows us to make more nourishing choices that help our bodies wind down for bed. Research shows that happy people get better sleep, content people have more serene sleep and wake up well-rested. Insomnia is related with mood disorders as sleep and mood are closely related. Healthy sleep can enhance the quality of happiness and our mood. Conversely, the pre-frontal cortex (responsible for executive functioning and emotional regulation) is weak and dry in sleep deprived human beings.

As we learn to recognize the stress response in our minds and bodies, we begin to activate the Relaxation Response more frequently and effectively. Hanging out in the Relaxation Response throughout the day, particularly in the evenings, allows us to fall asleep more easily, which allows us to awaken feeling well rested, which supports our brain health, allowing us to more easily access the Relaxation Response.

  • Be in bed by 10pm, asleep by 10:30pm, and awaken by 6am feeling refreshed.
  • Limit your use of electronic devices in the evening, shutting them down at least 1/2 hour, ideally 2 hours before bed.
  • Eat dinner by 7pm so your body can complete digestion before bedtime.
  • Bring to mind 3 good things that happened in your day, within the last hour before bed.

Six Tips to Better Sleep

We know that getting a good night’s sleep helps to keep our immunity strong. The Mayo Clinic shares these six tips for a better night’s sleep.

1. Stick to a sleep schedule
Set aside no more than eight hours for sleep. The recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult is at least seven hours. Most people don’t need more than eight hours in bed to achieve this goal.

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Try to limit the difference in your sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends to no more than one hour. Being consistent reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle.

If you don’t fall asleep within about 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing. Read or listen to soothing music. Go back to bed when you’re tired. Repeat as needed.

2. Pay attention to what you eat and drink
Don’t go to bed hungry or stuffed. In particular, avoid heavy or large meals within a couple of hours of bedtime. Your discomfort might keep you up.

Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol deserve caution, too. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine take hours to wear off and can wreak havoc on quality sleep. And even though alcohol might make you feel sleepy, it can disrupt sleep later in the night.

3. Create a restful environment
Create a room that’s ideal for sleeping. Often, this means cool, dark and quiet. Exposure to light might make it more challenging to fall asleep. Avoid prolonged use of light-emitting screens just before bedtime. Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.

Doing calming activities before bedtime, such as taking a bath or using relaxation techniques, might promote better sleep.

4. Limit daytime naps
Long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep. If you choose to nap, limit yourself to up to 30 minutes and avoid doing so late in the day.

If you work nights, however, you might need to nap late in the day before work to help make up your sleep debt.

5. Include physical activity in your daily routine
Regular physical activity can promote better sleep. Avoid being active too close to bedtime, however.

Spending time outside every day might be helpful, too.

6. Manage worries
Try to resolve your worries or concerns before bedtime. Jot down what’s on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow.

Stress management might help. Start with the basics, such as getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Meditation also can ease anxiety.

Congratulate yourself for these practices you already regularly incorporate into your daily schedule. Pick one or two to add to your daily habits. Need help? Try Shape Corp.’s habit challenge to support your path to this new healthy sleep habit.

The Mayo Clinic reminds us that “While you might not be able to control the factors that interfere with your sleep, you can adopt habits that encourage better sleep.”

Step It Up! Fitness Challenge

Step It Up! is a free, 8-week program designed by Ottawa County Parks & the Department of Public Health to help participants get active and visit new parks. All levels of fitness welcome!
Please register in advance.

Quality Sleep Resource

Simple sleep practices to help you balance your state of mind and health.

Support your brain health with quality sleep.

Simple Tools for Exercise, Movement and Quality Sleep

At Work – Pause take five deep breaths. Notice, am I more effective at work on a full night’s sleep? What would today look like if I had prioritized quality sleep last night? Do I need to take a moment to walk around my work space, take the long route to the bathroom, etc. to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels in my body? Park further away from the front door?

At Home – Take a quick walk around the block with your family after dinner. Enjoy the beauty of the green spaces in your neighborhood. Notice – would my body and mind benefit from a brisk walk outside to lower my cortisol levels every evening after dinner? Or a quick game of frisbee in the front yard with my spouse? Children?

Just for You – Notice the messages of feeling refreshed or overly tired in your body. Ask yourself – what would the morning look like if I incorporated just one of the sleep tips above into my evening routine? In bed by 10pm? No electronic devices after 8pm? 9pm? What is the small step toward quality sleep, movement or exercise I can take this week on behalf of my long term health?

Curious for More?

See what resources our community partners have to offer.

Ottawa County Parks

Find out about a specific park or Open Space Land by selecting a property on the map, lists, or park chart.

Stay active and explore new parks by joining the free Step It Up program.

North Ottawa Community Health Systems

Feeling Stressed? Sleep On It Community Newsletter article.

The Tri-Cities Family YMCA

View The Tri-Cities YMCA events calendar for upcoming Movement Classes.

Shape Fitness Factory

Sleep Wellness Challenge, Shape Family Wellness Program.

Interested in the Supporting Research?

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