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The dreaded ‘R’ word is the word no one sporty wants to hear and the word not many people actually do. In our society we’re often on the go all the time and the importance of staying active and regularly exercising is drilled into us. We’re busy people. That’s perhaps why rest normally comes with an overwhelming sense of guilt. 
 
Would you believe that rest days are just as important as exercise? In fact, even the most successful fitness regimes all have scheduled rest days. 
 
Taking regular breaks from exercise allows your body to recover and repair. It plays a critical part in progress, regardless of whether you are an elite athlete or a complete beginner. 

What actually happens during rest and recovery? 

During recovery time, the body adapts to the stress the body has been placed under during exercise and that’s when the real training effects take place. Physical exercise causes muscle tissue breakdown (micro-tears within the working muscles), fluid loss (dehydration), and the depletion of energy stores (muscle glycogen). 
 
Rest and recovery allows the body to repair the damaged tissues by cells called fibroblasts and replenish the energy stores by storing carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. However, when rest and recovery does not take place the body will not be able to repair and replenish. 

Prevents Muscle Fatigue: 

Rest is necessary for avoiding exercise-induced fatigue. Exercise-induced fatigue is a reduction in maximal voluntary muscle force that results from a period of intense and prolonged exercise. This essentially means the muscles become weaker which affects performance in exercise. 

Reduces Risk of Injury: 

When the body is overworked, you’ll be more likely to make mistakes when training. This can include not being in the correct form when exercising or trying to lift a heavier weight. Overtraining exposes your muscles to repetitive stress, which in turn increases the risk of overuse injuries, therefore forcing you to take more rest days than planned. 

Improves Performance: 

When the body does not get enough rest, it will become hard to stick to your routine, let alone challenge yourself. You’ll feel a lot less motivated to exercise, do an extra rep, or run that extra mile. Even if you push yourself, overtraining decreases your performance. You may experience reduced endurance, slower reaction times, and poor agility. 

Helps Sleep: 

While regular exercise can improve your sleep, taking rest days is also equally as helpful. Physical activity increase hormones like cortisol and adrenaline which are known as energy-boosting hormones. However, constant exercise can overproduce these hormones. This will result in a reduction of good quality sleep that will worsen fatigue and exhaustion. Rest will enable you to get a better night’s sleep by regulating your hormones to a normal and balanced state. 

What should I do during a rest day? 

A rest day will look very different from person to person as it depends on the intensity and frequency of your exercise routine along with your day-to-day lifestyle outside of exercising. 
 
If your routine predominantly includes a lot of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity then rest days are essential. It is recommended that a rest day should be taken every 3 to 5 days. The more vigorous the cardio, the more frequent you will need rest days. 
 
Running, even though it is a form of cardio, usually requires a different approach to rest days. If you’re a beginner, then start running 3 days a week. Running too much too soon can lead to overuse injuries and fatigue. On the other days, you can schedule in rest of other forms of exercise that should not involve the same muscles used for running e.g., upper body activities, stretching, or yoga. 
 
Bodybuilding and weight training have a different sort of rest day schedule. Typically you would rotate the muscles being worked each day, so on one day you would use your lower body muscles and the next you would train an upper-body group of muscles e.g., shoulders. After exercising a specific muscle group, let the group rest for between 1-2 days before training it again. 
 
Remember a rest day does not necessarily mean you’re being forced to be lazy and watch Netflix all day! You could do that if you’d like, of course. 
 
What we’re suggesting is that low-impact exercise is a perfect rest day activity. It allows you to stay active without overstressing the body. Examples of this are walking, swimming, and yoga. 
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