The Mental & Physical Reasons You Need To Take A Rest Day From Working Out

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Working out regularly is a fantastic thing — it's not only great for your physical health but has emotional and mental health benefits too. But as with all things, you can definitely overdo it. While it might be nice to think that too much exercising could result in amazing things like being free of depression and cardiovascular issues forever, unfortunately, for all the benefits that working out offers, it can turn on us if we don't take a rest day.

"If you're in a constant state of breaking down your body and don't give your body sufficient tools to repair what you've done in training, you will not make any progress," physical therapist Dr. Grayson Wickham told Nike. "Eventually, you can overwork your central nervous system and go down the path of overtraining ... If you have no rest days, eventually it will catch up to you. You may be able to power through for a few weeks, but this is not sustainable in the long term."

In other words, your body and your mind have limits that you need to respect. The best way to respect them, no matter how much you love hitting up the gym, is by taking a rest day or two; all the pros that come with working out become null and void if you don't incorporate rest time into your exercise regimen. Think of it this way — those rest days benefit you in ways that are equally important as what you gain from the exercise itself.

Your muscles need a break

Even the most finely-tuned machines need to find their way home from the gym and take a breather. If that's the case for the likes of, say, Chris Hemsworth, what does that say about us mere mortals? It means we absolutely need to take a rest day between workouts — no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You can always return again the following day.

According to a 2003 study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, it can take up to 72 hours for the muscles to recover after an intense workout. Adequate rest allows fibroblasts to repair tissue that's been damaged during working out and gives the circulatory system the opportunity to remove metabolic byproducts (essentially waste) from the muscles. When the circulatory system is given a chance to do its thing, your muscles get the oxygen and nutrients they need, helping to decrease muscle fatigue as well as potential injuries, according to ACE Fitness. You may think your highly-trained body is unstoppable, but it's important to remember that's it actually quite fragile too.

It promotes healthy sleep patterns

While it's no secret that regular exercise is great for sleep, too much working out can backfire and make those glorious nights of proper shut-eye a distant memory. There are two reasons for this: For starters, working out causes our cortisol and adrenaline levels to increase. Cortisol is the stress hormone that, when people overexert themselves physically, can't always get back down to a healthy level in time for bed, per Shape. So there you are, tossing and turning, and exhaustion is making its way into every inch of your body. But if that weren't enough, too much exercise without rest can also lead to vivid dreams or nightmares.

"The crappier our sleep is, the better we remember our dreams," certified dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg told Well + Good. "If you're not getting good sleep you're going to wake up after REM, which allows you to more easily remember your dreams." So not only is sleep after too much exercise an elusive dream, but what little sleep you get is also likely to be tormented by dreams you'd probably prefer not to have or remember. While there's more to good sleep than an appropriate level of exercise, make it easier on yourself and just take the occasional rest from working out.

It increases performance and progress

It should go without saying that taking a rest day helps increase workout performance, but for those who are really dedicated to the gym, this reality might be difficult to process. Fun fact: You can't get better if you're not bringing your A-game every time — and that A-game can't exist if you're not allowing for muscle recovery and getting the appropriate amount of sleep.

According to ACE Fitness, both moderate- and high-intensity workouts need the energy that comes from glycolysis to be the type of sessions that you can feel proud about and feel like you're making progress. But when you don't let the body rest, your glycogen levels can get too low, and then you end up feeling sluggish, both physically and mentally. At that point, it doesn't matter how long you stay at the gym and fight through those feelings — you're not performing at your maximum ability, and you're certainly not making any progress. Instead, go home and take a load off for a day. Those videos you took of the Taylor Swift concert aren't going to rewatch themselves for the 100th time; that's your job.

It keeps your mind on track

Once we get into the practice of doing something often — especially if it's every day — it can become easy to get obsessed. While being really into exercising is hardly a bad interest to have, it can lead to deeper issues. According to a 2017 study published in Psychology Research Behavior Management, although compulsive exercise or "exercise addiction" has yet to be considered a mental illness by the medical community, it is associated with recognized psychiatric disorders. Comorbidities that often accompany compulsive exercise include disordered eating, dysmorphia, and obsessive–compulsive disorders, as well as personality disorders like narcissism, neuroticism, and perfectionism.

Giving yourself even that one day of rest can help break the cycle of something that could possibly lead to an unhealthy relationship with exercise. That way, you can continue to love exercising in a healthy manner, instead of risking obsession to the point of heading into potentially harmful terrain.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who does, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

It protects your emotions from going haywire

Getting back to our hormones, too much exercise can really do a number on our emotions — something to seriously take into consideration, especially if you're already struggling with depression or anxiety. According to ACE Fitness, overtraining can trigger stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. In addition to the effect cortisol can have on sleep (as mentioned above), when it's allowed to let loose with epinephrine at its side, you may experience greater irritability, lack of concentration, and abrupt mood swings.

So you can't sleep, your emotions are all over the place, and to top it off, you don't even want to drown your sorrows in pizza because the hormonal imbalance has suppressed your appetite. And all for what — so you could say you work out every day of the week? It's not a healthy way to go about things; life is not a competition where success is measured by ticking off boxes. If it's been seven days without a rest, grab a book and take a break. If you can't do that, then opt for short, low-impact at-home workouts that won't be too strenuous on your mind and body.

It's good for your heart

Yes, exercise is excellent for the cardiovascular system — but so is including a rest day during your week of workouts. If you physically stress your body, your heart is going to notice and respond in the form of increasing your resting heart rate (RHR). This isn't something you want.

According to the American Heart Association, the RHR of adults should be somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm). When it gets above 100, it means your body (and heart) are straining, something that can lead to sinus tachycardia, per Medical News Today. Although this type of tachycardia isn't likely to cause any long-term problems, it's worth paying attention to your resting heart rate. If you're experiencing palpitations or lightheadedness, look at your RHR. If, over the course of a week of workouts, it's 5+ bpm higher than usual, that's an indication you need to give yourself a rest day, certified exercise physiologist DeAnne Davis Brooks, Ed.D. told SELF.

Falling in love with working out can be a great a thing. But what's even greater is understanding the importance of moderation and the positive impact it has on our lives. You're not lazy for taking a rest day from working out — you're responsible and showing your body the respect and love it deserves.