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Why Rest Days are So Important

By EAT SMARTER
Updated on 27. Dec. 2018

Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, can be a great stress reducer, and may even help you lose weight. Another important part of a healthy lifestyle is rest days. Rest days are days when you do not exercise vigorously, and they are an essential part of your exercise routine. But, why?

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Rest days give your body a chance to recover. When you are doing resistance or strength training your muscles experience tiny tears. These tears need time to recover, heal, and build new muscle. This typically takes 48 hours, which is why it is recommended not to work the same muscle group two days in a row. If you do not give your muscles a chance to recover, you will not be building muscle. If you do a leg workout on Monday, it is a good idea to wait until at least Wednesday before rigorously working that muscle group again. Some even argue that the real progress comes during a rest period.

Frequent exercising, especially doing things like running which use the same muscles over and over again, can increase your chance of injuries caused by overuse such as stress fractures. Stress fractures are when you get a very small crack in one of your bones due to overuse or repetitive use. Injuries like stress fractures take anywhere from 4-12 weeks to heal, depending on the severity of the fracture. If you decide not to take rest days, you risk having to be out of commission for as many as 3 months. Doesn’t taking a few rest days make more sense?

Taking a rest day does not mean that you should sit on your couch and watch Netflix all day. During a rest day, you should not do intensive exercise but research has shown that doing low-intensity activities could actually aid in the recovery process. The study compared college rugby players who either rested using low-intensity exercise or did not include any type of exercise. It was concluded that those who included low-intensity exercise as part of their recovery had an overall better mental recovery. There was no negative effect on their physical recovery with the addition of low-intensity exercise.

A rest day can be include a light jog, a yoga session, or even an easy hike. The idea is to give your body a rest from the high-intensity workouts it needs to recover from. If you take a rest day by sitting all day, you could end up causing a negative affect. There is little positive outcome from working out if you have a very sedentary lifestyle.

Another important part, maybe the most important part, of recovery is sleep. Getting enough sleep is important for maintaining a healthy body. If you do not get enough sleep, 6-8 hours is the recommended amount, you may experience fatigue, weight gain, decreased productivity, and even increase your chances of getting sick.

A 2013 study from the University of Alabama found that exercising 2-4 times per day experienced the same weight loss levels as those who worked out 6 times per day. In addition to that, the group of women involved in the study who were working out less tended to burn more calories on a daily basis through the addition of lifestyle changes. These women were more likely to take the stairs or walk to their destinations than those who worked out 6 days per week. This is likely because the women who were working out more often felt a time pressure since they had to account for working out 6 days per week, forcing them to choose activities that take less time such as driving instead of walking.

There are many reasons to include rest days in your workout schedule, from preventing injury to keeping yourself mentally and physically healthy. Your body needs rest days to recover and rebuild. Just like with everything, exercise and rest should be included in moderation as part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

  1. Suzuki, M., T. Umeda, S. Nakaji, T. Shimoyama, T. Mashiko, and K. Sugawara. “Effect of Incorporating Low Intensity Exercise into the Recovery Period after a Rugby Match.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 38.4 (2004):436-40. PubMed.gov - National Institutes of Health. National Center for Biotechnology Information - U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug 2004. Web.
  2. LeWine, Howard, MD. “Too little Sleep, and Too Much, Affect Memory.” Harvard Health Blog. Harvard Medical School, 02 May 2014. Web.
  3. Hunter, Gary R., C. Scott Bickel, Gordon Fisher, William H. Neumeier, and John P. McCarthy. “Combined Aerobic and Strength Training and Energy Expenditure in Older Women.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 45.7 (2013): 1386-393. Web.
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