Why Rest Days are So Important
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?
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 uses 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. One 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.1
A rest day can 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 effect. There is little positive outcome from working out if you have a very sedentary lifestyle. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine found that it does not matter how much exercise you do, if you are sitting for a large portion of your day your health will still be negatively impacted. This does not, however, mean that you should ditch your exercise routine altogether if you work a sedentary job. Simple changes, such as taking a couple 5-15 minute walk breaks during the day, can have a drastic impact on your health.2
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.3 In addition, when you sleep your body produces growth hormones. These hormones are important for building muscles, so if you are skipping out on sleep in favor of more gym time you are likely working against yourself. A study of Stanford University men’s basketball team members found that they had better athletic performance when they got more sleep at night.4
A 2013 study from the University of Alabama found that exercising 2-4 times per week experienced the same weight loss levels as those who worked out 6 times per week. 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 day-to-day activities that take less time such as driving instead of walking.5
Switching up your exercise routine is important for staying motivated and building a strong and healthy body. If you are constantly working the same muscles and doing the same workouts day after day, your muscles are not able to properly repair. By adding new workouts and active recovery days, you body will be able to repair itself and become stronger.
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. The real key is to balance your routines, if you do this along with eating a well-balanced diet, you will be on your way to a stronger and healthier version of yourself. Overworking your body is a sure way to injure yourself through overworked muscles, resulting in having to hang up your sneakers and gym clothes for a longer period of time.
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. Garber, Carol Ewing, Ph.D., FACSM, Bryan Blissmer, Ph.D., Michael R. Deschenes, Ph.D., FACSM, Barry A. Franklin, Ph.D., FACSM, Michael J. Lamonte, Ph.D., FACSM, I-Min Lee, M.D., Sc.D., FACSM, David C. Nieman, Ph.D., FACSM, and David P. Swain, Ph.D., FACSM. “Quantity and Quality of exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 43.7 (2011): 1334-1359. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. American College of Sports Medicine, July 2011. Web.
3. LeWine, Howard, MD. “Too little Sleep, and Too Much, Affect Memory.” Harvard Health Blog. Harvard Medical School, 02 May 2014. Web.
4. Mah, Cheri D., MS, Kenneth E. Mah, MD, MS, Eric J. Kezirian, MD, MPH, and William C, Dement, MD, Ph.D. “The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players.” Sleep 34.7 (2011): 943-950. US National Library of Medicine- National Institutes of Health. Associated Professional Sleep Societies, LLC, 01 July 2011. Web.
5. 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.