You’ve been killing it in the gym all week, and it’s finally Friday. Tomorrow is your day to rest and recoup, but you’d be lying if you said you thought you needed it. Rather than feeling sore or tired, you feel strong and limber, ready to put in just as much effort in the coming days. However, you know how important rest days are for your physical health. From preventing injuries to reducing fatigue, taking a break is essential for reaching your goals.
Did you know rest days are just as crucial for your mental health? Your brain deserves as much of a break as your muscles, and there are plenty of reasons why.
If you feel like you’re going through the motions during every workout and can’t seem to stay present, your brain might need a break. That’s because your mind motivates your body to put in the work every time you hit the weight rack or cardio machine. Eventually, you’ll run out of positive self-talk, and there’ll be nothing left to motivate you.
Luckily, you can reset your willpower by taking a rest day. Take a nap, eat some snacks and relax. Most importantly, give your mind permission to be quiet. It can go back to giving you a pep talk tomorrow.
Gym rats know how easy it is to form an obsession around exercise. One month, you’re working out because it feels good. The next, you’re obsessed with losing three extra pounds or beating a personal record. Social media and unrealistic beauty standards only intensify that pursuit of the perfect body, which can ultimately end in a physical and mental breakdown.
Rest days are important because they help keep your passion in check and ensure physical fitness and counting calories don’t become obsessions. They can also prevent overtraining and eating disorders that often accompany exercise addiction and the “no days off” mentality.
Speaking of addiction, substance abuse and mental illness often go hand in hand. That means an unhealthy obsession can quickly lead to drug and alcohol abuse, especially where steroids and other stimulants are concerned. While these drugs may enhance your performance at first, they can eventually cause depression, schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses. All the while, you’ll develop a greater dependency on your substance of choice.
Taking a rest day can prevent this vicious cycle of addiction by helping you manage your expectations and focus on the process rather than the outcome. A few days off can also give you time to enjoy some substances in moderation so you don’t binge when you happen to take a rest day.
Working out regularly can help you release pent-up energy and get a better night’s sleep. However, overworking your body can actually have the opposite effect. After days — or weeks — without proper rest, you’ll begin to experience fatigue, sleep disturbances and mood shifts.
Because deep sleep cycles increase blood flow to your muscles and aid in recovery, you might also experience physical weakness or a plateau. Your efforts in the gym will be fruitless, which can certainly impact morale, motivation and mental health. Therefore, you must schedule recovery days into your fitness plan.
Maintaining a routine is key to staying consistent and crushing your goals, but sometimes it’s OK to break your schedule for rest days. Maybe you woke up feeling sad or agitated or completely numb. In this case, weightlifting might provide a distraction when you’d be better off sitting with those emotions and exploring them further.
Take this time to tune into other aspects of your being, like your mind, spirit and personality. Try a new hobby, spend time with friends and self-reflect in a journal. Breaking routine to check in with yourself, question your motives and engage with something other than your body will help you approach health holistically so every part of you benefits — not just your physique.
Exercise can effectively relieve stress by releasing feel-good chemicals called endorphins. However, too much physical activity can also exacerbate preexisting cortisol imbalances and actually increase stress levels. So, while you might intend to relieve your anxiety at the gym, you could make things worse if you refuse to take a break.
Check-in with your emotions before you work out. Are you experiencing a high-stress period of life? If so, you might be better off practicing yoga or engaging in some gentle breathing exercises instead. These calming activities will regulate the nervous system and stabilize cortisol levels rather than trigger your fight-or-flight response like a HIIT workout would.
Most people associate burnout with long hours at the office or staying at home with kids. However, anyone can experience emotional and physical burnout, even gym rats. All that exercise is sure to energize you most days, but if you repeatedly push past your limits — regardless of how tired or sore you become — you’re bound for burnout. When it finally hits, you may be incapacitated for days, which can certainly take a toll on your mental health.
Take a rest day before your body forces you into one and use that time to invest in recovery. You can do things you otherwise wouldn’t have time for on gym days, but remember to rest the muscles you work the hardest. That way, you don’t injure yourself the next time you pump iron.
You can’t have a strong body without a strong mind, but sometimes, both deserve a break. Taking a rest day will ensure good physical and mental health so you can keep chasing your dreams and crushing your goals — both in and out of the gym.
About the Author
Kara Reynolds is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Momish Magazine, an inclusive parenting magazine filled with parenting hacks, advice and more to keep your beautiful family thriving.