Happy Friday, Everyone! It’s gorgeous here in the Twin Cities and I’ll definitely be heading outside to be active today, but every once in awhile I do take a day off from exercise. More often than not, it’s because I’ve got a busy schedule that day, but sometimes it’s because my body needs the break. Many people wonder whether they should take days off from exercise, and based on the advice in many popular fitness magazines, you would think it’s practically mandatory. In truth, the answer is different for each person, and it depends on your health and fitness goals.
The reason why recovery or rest days are important for anyone is because that’s when the body actually makes the physiological adaptations that create changes to the body. These changes result in stronger or faster muscles, more power or increased aerobic capacity – in short, they create improvements in performance. For athletes (professional or amateur) recovery days are absolutely an essential part of a training regimen. Runners, cyclists, swimmers, body builders, powerlifters, dancers and gymnasts all need regular, planned days off in order to allow their bodies to adapt to the training they’ve been doing and to avoid injury. This training strategy applies to anyone who is trying to get better at something, whether they compete or not. If you want to run faster or farther, lift heavier weights or bulk up your muscles, then you probably need to schedule in one or two rest or recovery days each week.
It’s also important for regular exercisers to take a day off here and there, or to schedule days of lighter activity into their weekly regimen in order to avoid overuse injuries. If you regularly exercise pretty vigorously for a half hour or more on six or seven days a week, then you might benefit from taking it a little bit easier or taking a complete day off once in awhile. If you find yourself feeling tired despite getting good sleep, or if your workouts are lacking the pep they once had, you could be overtraining, and scheduling a day of rest every four to six days could be just the thing your body needs.
The situations above don’t describe most people, though. Around 80 percent of American adults don’t meet the recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise on five or more days per week. For those who exercise in order to improve fitness, reduce health risks or to lose weight, recovery days aren’t only not necessary, they actually slow progress toward those goals. What is necessary for this group is a smart, well-balance exercise program that alternates modes of exercise and intensity levels. For generally healthy adults, a solid exercise program will include two days per week of strength training for all major muscle groups, and 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity at least five days per week, some of which is fairly vigorous. Those with injuries or known health conditions should consult a physician or certified fitness professional to get a program specifically tailored to their situation.