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Why are rest days important?

October 11th, 2022 by
Category: Dr. Ashleigh O'Brien Exercise Health & Wellbeing

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I’m sure that we have all heard that regular exercise is important for your overall health and well-being, but did you know that regular rest days are just as important? When it comes to exercise, more isn’t necessarily better. Yes, exercise has many benefits to not only our physical health but also our mental health, such as:

  • Improving your overall mood and decreasing feelings of depression, anxiety and stress due to changes in the parts of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety and the endorphins produced while exercising
  • Helping with weight loss by increasing your metabolic rate
  • Playing a vital role in building and maintaining strong bones and muscles
  • Increasing your energy levels
  • Help with relaxation and sleep quality

As a general rule, we should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day. Whether that be strength training in the gym, swimming laps in a pool, going for a run or even a brisk walk during your lunch break at work. It is also important to reduce your sedentary or sitting time throughout the day. 

So, what actually happens to your body when you exercise? 

The day of exercise

 The brain and nerves fire in new ways to learn new movement patterns. The heart pumps blood to the muscles to oxygenate them and provide the body with nutrients.

The day after exercise

A common side effect of exercise is delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS). This is the result of small tears in the connective tissue between the muscle fibres.

A week of exercise

Feeling more energetic and an increase in mood due to the release of endorphins. This will help to motivate you to continue with regular exercise

A month of exercise

You will become stronger and start to notice small physical changes in your body. There will be improvements in your strength due to more effective connections from the nerves to the muscles. The heart is more effectively pumping blood around the body and an obvious physical change in appearance usually begins around the 3-month mark.

A year of exercise

Your body will be more agile and general joint and muscle pain should have reduced. Your heart, bones and muscles are stronger which in turn reduces your risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and many types of cancers.

The importance of regular rest days

Regular rest days should be incorporated into your exercise routine and it is important that you learn to recognise when extra rest days are necessary. It is recommended that a person takes a rest day every 7-10 days to allow the body and mind to recover. The health benefits of rest days include:

  • Alleviating muscle pain – rest days allow the body to remove excess lactate from the muscles.
  • Repairing and building muscles – exercise creates micro tears in the muscle tissues and during rest days these tears repair and build up the muscle tissue.
  • Preventing injury – over-exercising puts repetitive stress on the muscles and joints which increases the risk of injury.

A rest day can be an active rest day that involves gentle exercises such as yoga or walking, or a person may decide to opt for a full day of relaxation. Resting the mind is also important. Meditation, reading a book, listening to music or taking a bath are all good activities to add to your rest day. 

Signs that someone may need a rest day

There are many signs that can indicate that a person needs a rest day. Some of the signs to look out for include:

  • Persistent muscle pain and soreness
  • Inability to complete a workout
  • Feeling sluggish following a workout
  • Craving comfort foods and binge eating post-workout
  •  Increased occurrence of injury and illness

You should see a doctor if you haven’t exercised regularly for a while and need to know where to start, if you believe you have sustained an injury while exercising, or if there is a specific site of pain that doesn’t seem to ease off with rest days. 

Whether you are new to exercise or a seasoned athlete, regular rest is a crucial part of your workout schedule. Allowing your body to rest is the best thing that you can do to help you achieve the goals that you have made for yourself. 

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