Do skip leg day: 3 reasons rest days are important

All good things in life — coffee, Netflix, you name it — are best enjoyed in moderation, and exercise is no different. Sure, physical activity is good for us, to say the least, but even the most seasoned athlete or fitness aficionado can overdo it when it comes to working out — often without realizing it.

Mood swings, weight loss, and long-lasting muscular soreness are just a few of the red flags to look out for if you are training too much, as outlined by 12 Minute Athlete. Hitting the pause button on exercising will help alleviate these conditions, but you should also know that rest and recovery have their own set of advantages, including these three:

  1. Relaxes the mind

Taking a break from training is good for your mind. While it’s true that stress-relieving endorphins are released during physical activity, excessive exercise can actually increase stress by elevating levels of cortisol —  one of the many hormones our body usually produces in smaller doses to handle stress.

Still, for some people, especially those who value exercise for its mental health benefits, missing a workout is anything but relaxing, sometimes exacerbating symptoms of anxiety and depression. If this resonates with you, you may find active recovery exercise to be a suitable compromise.

Hitting that sweet spot between intense workouts and resting completely, active recovery involves any non-strenuous physical activity, from walking and swimming to cycling and gardening. How you incorporate active recovery into your exercise routine is entirely up to you. However, to make it a true rest day, we recommend something gentle, like restorative yoga or this stretching program created by an ex-ballerina.

  1. Allows your muscles to recover and grow

Whether you choose to run long distances, perform interval training, or lift weights, your muscles will inevitably experience microtrauma throughout exercise. These tears are what lead to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) following a strenuous workout or a first training session.

If you want your muscles to recover properly, we recommend that you take a rest day every three to five days or so. Don’t worry — you won’t lose your gains. It’s actually a common misconception that muscle recovery only occurs on workout days. In fact, it takes place up to 48-hours post-workout. By taking time to recover, your muscles rebuild stronger than before, meaning you should be able to repeat your previous training routine with even less effort than usual.

However, nutrition is also important for reducing workout-related muscle soreness. For optimal muscle growth and repair, it’s important to fuel your body with the correct foods. Be sure to load up your plate with plenty of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats to make the most of your recovery time.

  1. Supports your immune system

Studies have shown that mild to moderate exercise can reduce the likelihood of catching a cold or flu. However, while regular exercise is essential for immunological health, excessive amounts can have the opposite effect and could actually weaken your defenses.

“Because many parts of your immune system change immediately after heavy physical exertion, this “open window” of altered immunity (which may last between three hours and three days) may give bacteria and viruses a chance to strike,” Shape explains.

If you want to build up your immunity and prevent yourself from getting sick, you need to give your body time to recuperate between bouts of strenuous activity — such as high-intensity endurance exercise for more than an hour. It also goes without saying that you should take a break from working out when sick — this can make you feel much worse, pass on the illness to other people, and ultimately delay your recovery.

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