For some of us, exercise has become so engrained in our lifestyle that the idea of having a day of complete rest is quite stressful. Because there are social, emotional, hormonal and psychological benefits associated with physical activity, it can become highly addictive and it is easy to simply dismiss the need to have a day off. However, giving our bodies a break from intense physical activity is exactly what prevents us from becoming broken. Fortunately, a rest day need not mean flopping on the couch and watching television all day. Let’s take a look at the idea of active rest and why you need it.
Believe it or not, training itself actually makes you weaker. You become stronger only through the rest that follows a hard workout. However, when the balance between hard training and recovery gets out of whack, you risk suffering the effects of overtraining syndrome. Overtraining syndrome can cause a wide range of symptoms, from a loss of appetite and moodiness to lethargy and insomnia. The best way to avoid overtraining is simply to back off a bit. This doesn’t mean you need to have complete rest from all forms of exercise. Rather, you can turn to active rest.
Active rest means easy exercise that will allow your lightly moving muscles to flush out toxins and avoid the sluggishness that accompanies overtraining. It causes the lactate to be carried away from your muscles faster, thus allowing for a better and swifter recovery. Active rest can include anything from mild aerobic activities such as walking, swimming or gentle cycling right through to activities as simple as playing with the kids or walking the dog. Essentially, on this day your heart rate should increase to no more than 60 per cent of its maximum. The number of active rest days you incorporate will depend on your specific training needs and your overall fitness goals.
You may wonder why I recommend active rest as opposed to actual rest. Just as a car doesn’t like it when you slam on the brakes, your body doesn’t either. Active rest keeps your heart pumping at a happy pace and improves circulation to the muscles without adding undue stress to the tissues that are recovering from a hard exercise session. The ‘flushing’ of lactic acid that accompanies active rest and allows for a swifter recovery will not occur if you rest completely. Finally, active rest gets you out of your usual exercise routine and hence keeps your brain and psychological system firing. With all these benefits, it’s hard to resist the lure of an active rest day.
If you’re feeling rundown, overly fatigued and constantly sore, perhaps it’s time to incorporate more rest into your weekly exercise routine. Instead of stopping completely however, give active rest a try and invigorate your body and mind in a whole new manner.