People who experience insomnia or have sleep disruptions related to periodic leg movements (PLM) can benefit from both the immediate and long-term effects of exercise, says a study published in the January 2009 issue Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise®, the official scientific journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Exercise reduced PLM, often associated with restless legs syndrome (RLS), and contributed to better sleep patterns in patients who have the periodic episodes of repetitive leg movement during sleep.

The study was designed to examine both the acute (immediate) and chronic (long-term) effects of exercise as it relates to PLM/RLS. Volunteers included sedentary patients already enrolled in a sleep disorder program due to these conditions. All were analyzed after they had performed an intensive exercise session in the morning (acute) and later compared to half the group who trained for approximately six months, three days a week.

Each group experienced significant improvements in their sleep patterns, including increases in their total sleep time, sleep efficiency and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The authors note the results of the study showed improved sleep patterns after acute and chronic exercise may be more accentuated in individuals with some form of sleep disorder than in the general population.

However, people without PLM/RLS symptoms may still benefit from understanding the link between exercise and improvements in these symptoms. According to, incidence of PLM increases with age. It is estimated to occur in 5 percent of people age 30 to 50 and in 44 percent of people over the age of 65. More than 12 percent of patients suffering from insomnia and 3.5 percent of patients suffering from excessive daytime sleepiness may experience PLM.

"The ability to have restful and uninterrupted sleep is often taken for granted, but not usually by people with periodic leg movements or restless leg syndrome - those who have a physical reminder of their sleep disruptions," said Andrea Maculano Esteves, the lead author of the study. "Exercise restores that ability, and quickly too, as we see in the improvements in the acute exercise sessions. An added benefit here is that exercise is an alternative to a pharmacological treatment, in terms of both outcome and cost."

ACSM and the American Heart Association recommend that healthy adults ages 18 to 65 years need moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for at least 30 minutes on five days each week (150 minutes a week) or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity for at least 20 minutes on three days each week. Children and young adults under the age of 18 should be active for 60 minutes each day. For more information, or to customize an exercise program, visit

The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 35,000 international, national, and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.

NOTE: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise® is the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, and is available from Lippincott Williams & Wilkins at 1-800-638-6423. For a complete copy of the research paper (Vol. 41, No. 1, pages 237-242) or to speak with a leading sports medicine expert on the topic, contact the Department of Communications and Public Information at 317-637-9200 ext. 127 or 133. Visit ACSM online at

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