“Rest Day” Benefits & Pitfalls in Your Fitness Program

The best day for most people who exercise is being told they get a rest day! Even as an Exercise Physiologist, this is one of my favorite things to see on my workout calendar. There are many reasons on why we should take a few days to a week (at most) for our bodies to recover. Below are a few examples:

Reasons To Take a Break

• Prevent Over-training
• Allow our Muscles to Repair Themselves
• Help to Prevent “Plateaus”
• Prevent Injuries from Occurring

Taking Advantage of an Exercise Break

As a trainer, however, I dread giving people too many days off because it’s easy to take advantage of the “rest period’. Once you reach a week of no activity your body begins to experience the effects of deconditioning. Deconditioning is defined as reversible changes in the body system brought by physical inactivity and disuse. Here is a timeline of what happens to our body when we stop exercising!

Within 10 Days

Within 10 days of being physically inactive your brain may actually start to change. Research shows a reduction in blood flow to the hippocampus, which is associated with emotion and memory.

Within 2 Weeks

After 14 days you will notice a more difficult time climbing stairs or partaking in sports activities. The reason you start to notice this winded feeling is because your VO2 max can dip about 10% after no activity for 2 weeks. After about 4 weeks it will drop about 15% and after three months it will drop about 20%.

Another study shows people who did about 8 months of resistance and aerobic exercise saw improvements in their blood glucose levels; however, after no activity for 14 days they almost lost half of their blood glucose levels.

Within 4 Weeks

With 4 weeks of inactivity, you will start to notice changes in your muscles. They will become noticeably smaller and weaker. Some people have shown to keep their muscular strength and endurance for longer periods of time; however, the majority of people will realize it’s harder to make that one trip with all the groceries in your trunk!

Within 8 Weeks

This is the time period were you will start noticing physical changes to your body – either by the number on the scale, clothes fitting differently or by simply looking in the mirror.

Whether work, vacation or life in general – sometimes taking a week (or more) off of your exercise routine can’t be avoided. If you do have to take extended time away from your exercise program, try to perform some type of activity to keep your body moving. These activities can be as simple as a light walk, using the hotel gym’s cardio machines, climbing flights of stairs instead of using the elevator, parking your car at the furthest point in the lot or playing some type of sport with family and friends.  Future you will greatly appreciate these decisions when you get back to your fitness routine.