Rest Days – How Often To Take Them and Why They Are Important

By Todd Tampke, BSc. Exercise Sports Science
Inner Element Fitness General Manager

The dedicated mindset of the experienced athlete tends to frantically clamor for daily exercise. And even fitness newcomers may feel the need to make up for lost time by working out constantly and denying themselves regular breaks.

Although deep-seated devotion and enthusiasm are certainly key elements of overall fitness success, we must not forget that one of the most important components of any effective exercise plan is allowing adequate time for our bodies to recover. In fact, people who exercise day-in and day-out without scheduling necessary periods of rest are often doing more harm to their body than good.

In short, human muscles, organs, tissues, and bones need recovery time after being subjected to the physiological stress and fatigue that exercise produces. But how much rest is good for you, and where do you draw the line between necessary recuperation and encroaching laziness?

Finding Your Ideal Exercise to Rest Ratio

When it comes to scheduling rest days in your exercise routine, the most important rule is to “listen” to your body. Some so-called fitness experts may try to tell you that there is a significant difference between relatively out-of-shape individuals and elite athletes when it comes to rest days (i.e., couch potatoes may need rest, but Olympic medal-winners do not).

In truth, your ideal exercise to rest ratio has little to do with your level of fitness but everything to do with your personal physiology. Some people may be able to withstand a fairly rigorous workout schedule with a minimum of rest, while others will require substantially more.

Just remember that exercising is supposed to give you more energy on a regular basis, not less. If you are saddled with fatigue day after day due to your workout program, you simply aren’t doing it right. Even the most resilient of bodies requires an occasional rest day when subjected to ongoing exercise.

As reported in The Active Times, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise each week. By breaking this down into three to five evenly-distributed days, you should allow yourself plenty of rest and recovery time. When it comes to strength training, the ACSM suggests working on different muscle groups on different days and leaving at least two solid days between each muscle group training session.

The Chief Health Benefits of Rest Days

By scheduling appropriate rest days into your workout regimen, you can…

Allow Muscles to Repair and Recover

Exercise tears muscles and other bodily tissues down so that they can be built up stronger and better than ever. If you don’t give your body the rebuilding time that it needs, however, you are getting few of the benefits that exercise promises. Rest days and adequate sleep are absolutely essential to furthering your strength, endurance, and general good health.

Reduce Risk of Injury

Beyond the need for general muscle recovery, injury prevention is probably the single most compelling reason to take that rest day when you need it. As we have noted, exercise stresses all types of body parts and tissues, so rest days are necessary to ensuring that those tissues remain injury free. The Active Times cites the knowledge of NASM certified master trainer Russell Wynter, who states, “When the stress is too much physiologically for the system to handle, it can and will lead to overuse injuries, such as stress fractures, muscle strains, and joint pain.”

Manage Stress Hormone Levels

While exercise is a great way to alleviate stress overall, it tends to boost levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the short term. As Runners World Magazine points out, these levels tend to rebalance after strenuous activity ceases, but people who work out every day may sustain unnaturally elevated cortisol levels over extended periods of time. This means that regular rest days are not only good for your body, but they’re good for the mind as well.

Making Your Rest Days Count

Indubitably necessary for personal health, rest days have social benefits as well. But while connecting with family and friends (and perhaps that new Netflix series) can do wonders for your sense of well-being, don’t get carried away when it comes to inactivity. The exercise masterminds at Daily Burn warn against “lounging on the couch for hours” on your rest day, pointing out that moderate amounts of “day off” activity can help you boost blood circulation, rid yourself of metabolic waste, and ensure that your tissues are getting plenty of rejuvenating oxygen and nutrients.

Ready to get on track? Ask me for help defining realistic fitness and/or nutrition goals and designing the plans to achieve them.

DISCLAIMER Please recognize the fact that it is your responsibility to work directly with your physician before, during, and after seeking fitness consultation. As such, any information provided is not to be followed without the prior approval of your physician. If you choose to use this information without the prior consent of your physician, you are agreeing to accept full responsibility for your decision. 

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