The Importance of Rest Days and How to Make Them Actually Happen

These days, most of us feel like we need to constantly do more. We’re on the move, we take on more and more, and we push ourselves to our limits (and beyond). Whether we’re doing it in an effort to gain strength, be the best at what we do, prove something to ourselves, or give the best to the people around us, the results are the same. We’re not setting aside enough time for rest. Even when we get home after a long day to unwind, our brains are still wound up due to the extra time spent scrolling through Instagram and Facebook or refreshing our email.

It’s easy to think about a “rest day,” as simply a day without a workout. We use that phrase a lot when it comes to fitness. However, a rest day is really about recharging both the body AND the mind. Sometimes, skipping a boot camp or a training session isn’t enough to make us feel renewed; we might still wake up the next day feeling sluggish and tired, which makes it that much more important to look at the bigger picture.

What do you do to rest and recharge? Do you sleep in, meet a friend for coffee, take a bath, or turn off notifications? You might even opt to stay in your pajamas and not get off the couch -- no judgment! What’s restful for one person might not be for another. It’s all about listening to your body and doing what’s right for you.

Even if you’re the type to say there are never enough hours in the day (like me), you still need to find ways to prioritize actual rest for yourself. Here are a few reasons why rest is so important. 

Your Body

Burnout is a real thing that doesn’t only apply to people who exercise regularly, especially when other factors of daily living are thrown into the mix --  constant moving, stress, sleep deprivation, fueling your (our!!) days with caffeine. At some point, your body will suffer. You’ll either experience an injury, a plateau in your fitness, or an energy plummet overall. Your body will likely signal when it’s hit a wall, with clues like increased heart rate, dehydration, weakened immune system, and feelings of depression. Are you listening to what it’s telling you? It’s incredibly important to take care of your body so it has time to recover and repair. Just as important as your workout days are your rest days. Fuel it properly everyday with good nutrition and sleep, and make sure that some days are reserved for gentler, less demanding use. 

Your Mind

It’s not hard to figure out when your body needs rest because you can feel when your muscles are sore or stiff or you feel yourself physically dragging. But it’s just as important for your mind to rest as well. Your mind is working all day – while you’re exercising, keeping track of your/your kids’/your partner’s/your co-worker’s/your friend’s needs, problem solving, and remembering the thousands of things you need to keep organized in your head everyday. Plus, your brain controls your body, so prioritizing rest for both is essential to feeling your best. When your brain is in overdrive, you might experience forgetfulness, confusion, feeling like you’re overwhelmed, and irrational or even aggressive emotions. Irritability and brain fog? We’ve all been there. Remember, it’s hard to think straight when your brain is exhausted! Activities that help you relax, like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga, are great, but don’t forget to power down your devices, too.

Need help making it a routine? Here are some tips.

Choose a Day, or Even Part of a Day

For most of us, Saturdays and Sundays are the easiest days to schedule as rest days. However, just because you’re not at work for eight hours doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting the rest your body and mind need. While it’s great to schedule an activity with friends or loved ones, constantly making plans or running errands might be adding more stress and fatigue to your life. Tell yourself ahead of time that, even if you can’t take a whole day, at least a few hours of either Saturday or Sunday (or both!) is for you and you only. And stick with it. Treat it like an appointment that you need to keep…. Because you do.

Set Boundaries

Simply marking a day on the calendar or scheduling a rest day is just the first step. To ensure rest really happens, write down a few things you will and won’t do. Maybe you know you’ll go for a walk in the morning and won’t check or answer work emails. The list of things you “won’t do” might come a little easier to you at first, but once you figure out what helps you feel the most relaxed, you’ll be even more inclined to include them on your must-do list! And what about exercise on your rest day? That’s up to you. Maybe grant yourself permission to spend some long, luxurious time on stretching and mobility, maybe head out in the kayak or walk a gentle trail. A rest day doesn’t mean you can’t move your body, just move it gently and in a way that feels nourishing to you. You have plenty of time to deadlift and squat. Take the time to enjoy your body when it’s not working to capacity -- you’ll be amazed by how good it feels. 

Of course you want to push yourself -- in the gym and everywhere else -- to be your best and feel accomplished. That’s great! That’s part of why I like you :) Don’t lose that part of yourself. Just remember that in order to let that side of you shine, you really do need to take care of yourself. You have to let off the gas… otherwise you’ll run the tank dry. So stop and refuel however feels right for you. You can continue down the road tomorrow.