The Real Value of Rest


I am in the throes of re-entry following vacation. Long lists of e-mails to respond to, letters to open, bills to pay, people to catch up with. Exhausting. But as daunting as re-entry can be, I would not trade the rest and family time for anything. Why? Because rest restores. I know that as I move forward and merge with the quickened pace of life and work, I will have a bit of a spring in my step, a better outlook, more tolerance and acceptance, maybe a few more smiles. And I will feel rested.

Rest is an under-appreciated component of rehabilitation and fitness programs.  Push, push, push, build, build, build. Repeat. Pull, pull, pull, stretch, stretch, stretch. Repeat. Sound familiar? We get caught up in the mechanics of rehab and fitness and forget that our bodies (and minds) need rest to respond best to the physical effects of straining and pushing and sweating. Muscles need to grow, swelling needs to abate, inflammation needs to subside, tight tissue needs to relax.

We often don’t think that rest is what we need, so we push harder. We push and grind and work hard. We do extra reps, we do extra sets. We bend and flex our knee or our shoulder, or stretch our hamstring muscle every waking hour. We pound out miles on the bike or the road or in the pool. And for a while this helps us to be stronger and more limber and possess greater capacity for physical activity. But as we do this again and again, our knee or shoulder or hamstring begins to become sore, maybe swollen. Our muscles ache, and remain sore for a few days. We feel fatigued, exhausted. Heat or ice no longer help. What’s wrong, isn’t more better? Your body might be telling you otherwise.

We don’t necessarily need the ‘lie around the house and slobber on the pillow’ type rest either. Sometimes we just need a change of pace, or a lighter load, or an alternative activity that is engaging but less vigorous. Relative rest is what we need.  Here are some ways to practice relative rest during a rehabilitation program if your body is tired and sluggish (with your therapist’s permission):

  • Lighten your load or cut your sets and reps once or twice a week.
  • Perform exercises only on alternate days one week a month
  • Alternate days of stretching and strengthening one week a month
  • Integrate non-rehabilitation exercises into your routine once or twice a week

Or to alter a fitness program that has you a bit too fatigued and lacking resiliency:

  • Sleep at least 6 hours a night and nap when you are sluggish
  • Alternate heavy weights with lower repetitions with lighter weights and higher repetitions once a week, or one week every two months
  • Walk, swim, or bike rather than run once or twice a week
  • Substitute yoga or stretching for more vigorous exercises once a week, or one week every two months
  • Take one week every two months to do something more recreational and completely different: swim, ride, rollerblade, walk, dance, garden, stretch, eat better, drink water, etc.

Relative rest is as important to rehabilitation and fitness as the hard work that goes into the exercise, endurance, and stretching. Maybe you can identify fatigue in yourself, or perhaps your therapist needs to determine when rest is better than more effort. Letting ourselves recover from prolonged effort, or singularly big efforts, or a painful response to activity provides the means by which our bodies physiologically ‘catch-up’ with our efforts.  And you get your swagger, your pep, and your energy back. And maybe a smile. And you are better for it.

If you are struggling with your physical health or fitness, let us know how we can help.

To your health and well-being,