Life these days seems to be ‘go, go, go’ more than ever. We’re always on the run, trying to get everything done. We’re left feeling exhausted because of being over-scheduled, hyper-stressed and under-nurtured. We rarely give ourselves the time we need to rest and recover.
Rest and recovery are not entirely the same, especially in the realm of health and fitness. Rest is easier to come by. It’s simply a lack of exertion on the body. Maybe you take a day to yourself and binge on a show on Netflix or you take a nap. Getting some time away from work and away from chores is good for your body. But rest is only a part of what you need to truly recover from the stresses of the week.
Think about it in terms of exercise and training. You can give it your all and rest for a few hours, but does that mean you’re ready to jump back to it? No. You didn’t give your body ample opportunity to recover and get ready to be pushed again. Recovery, in the true sense of the word, means creating an actual, deliberate plan to offset physical and mental demands of your week (or training, if exercising).
Dallas Hartwig, PT, MS, wrote in his blog, 9 Things to do When You’re All Banged Up:
“I see more sub-acute and chronic injuries resulting from inadequate recovery from exercise (especially with high-intensity programs), than resulting from an acute or traumatic incident. The primary fault lies with inadequate or improper recovery from exercise, not the type or intensity of exercise. (To put it another way, it’s not that you’re hurting yourself doing pull-ups – more often than not, it’s because you’re not properly recovering from those pull-ups.) I believe that a high-intensity exercise program is both effective and sustainable life-long only when combined with good nutrition and recovery practices.”
REST IS NECESSARY
In today’s world, many of us are stressed out by the very concept of rest. We may desire it, but we’re afraid to let the worries of our lives go, as if everything will fall apart if we take a break. Here in the West, rest seems to have negative connotations. If we’re resting, then we’re being lazy…failing to live up to expectations. We’ve always got to be out there working, moving, pushing on. If you’re not ‘too busy’, you’re falling behind. This is the way we think.
And it’s killing us.
Sleep is wonderful, but just getting adequate sleep isn’t enough to stay healthy. Dr. Matthew Edlund, a sleep specialist, found that even when he helped cure a patient’s inability to sleep properly, their health still remained poor because they weren’t properly recovering from the stress and exertion of their daily lives.
“Many of us are so busy we see rest as a weakness – a waste of precious time,” said Dr. Edlund, “but rest is, in fact, a biological need. All the science shows we need rest to live, just like we need food.”
The reality is, recovery is JUST as important and necessary as sleep for the body to rebuild and rejuvenate. The brain needs sleep to clean itself of toxins and become renewed. The body does the same. We’re not talking about plopping yourself in front of the TV, but about active rest that can make you more alert and effective, reduce stress levels and give you a better chance for a healthier and longer life.
WHAT IS ACTIVE RESTING?
According to Dr. Edlund, there are four kinds of active rest you can do. Social, physical, spiritual and mental. It’s important to practice each of these types of rest in your daily life to benefit your overall health and keep your body and mind fresh.
In order to recover from mental and physical stress, you need to engage in active rest. A social rest can be time spent with friends, perhaps having a discussion over coffee or a meal. You’re relaxed and in a comfortable environment. Back in the 1970’s, a U.S. study found that socializing is important for our overall health. In fact, it was found that socializing reduces your risk of serious illnesses including heart disease.
More recent studies appear to back this up as well. Having social support while battling cancer has been shown to provide a boost in fighting it off. It can also help with recovering from depression and from infectious diseases.
This is all because socializing reduces stress hormones in your body. While you’re resting in a social context, your mind is still engaged, which is important too.
Mental rest is about realizing that the brain doesn’t like to focus on too many things at once. In today’s world, we are almost required to multitask at a constant rate. The thing is, we don’t realize that multitasking is harming our health. Multitasking — even for a short period of time — has been proven to affect our nervous systems, increase blood pressure and change internal temperature.
The idea behind mental resting is teaching yourself controlled concentration. Focus on one single task to the point where all the other issues you’re dealing with no longer affect you. Learning how to meditate is a great way to get mental rest. Lie in bed, close your eyes and listen to a soundbite of rain or waves crashing the beach. Imagine yourself there. If meditation isn’t your bag, activities like knitting or coloring can encourage you to focus on a single thing, providing you with a mental rest.
Physical rest involves relaxing your body. It’s true what they say about taking a few deep breaths when you’re stressed out or angry. By breathing, you relax the mind and body as it opens up collapsed air spaces and allows more oxygen into your system. Another type of physical rest is perhaps everyone’s favorite: a quick nap. Close your eyes for 15-30 minutes.
A study from Greece revealed that people who took a 30-minute nap at least three times each week cut their risk of having a heart attack by 37 percent! NASA also found napping is helpful for improving work performance by 38 percent. There’s no denying the impact a quick nap can have on your overall health and well-being.
Going for a walk is a great way to take a break from constant sitting, get some fresh air and stretch your legs, without over-exerting yourself or risking injury.
Spiritual rest is closely connected to mental and even social rest. Whether or not you believe in the ‘spirit’ or in a deity, science has proven that people who pray and are able to meditate and attend religious services live longer than those who don’t. Meditation and prayer help to not only relax a person but actually expand their frontal lobes, the area of the brain in charge of concentration, focus, attention and analysis. It can also lower blood pressure and boost the immune system.
Religious or spiritual gatherings not only involve prayer but also allow for more opportunities to socialize and find the support that is often missing from our lives. T.M. Luhrmann, professor of anthropology at Stanford University and contributing opinion reporter for the N.Y. Times, conducted research as an anthropologist while visiting an evangelical church.
She reported that those who were in the church really did seem to look out for one another. When someone was sick, church members showed up with dinner. They had someone to sit down with when they were depressed. When there was a need within the community, as in the story of a young woman who needed $1,500 for a dental procedure, the church group rallied together to pay for it. Having that kind of support system in place does wonders for a person’s health.
Life can be overwhelming. In order to stay ahead, we often sacrifice our health to keep the ball rolling. We multitask, work long hours, bring our stress home with us and don’t give ourselves enough time to rest and recover. This is why we get sick. Our immune systems become suppressed, we get depressed and before we know it, we’re fighting off one illness after another.
It’s time to tell ourselves it’s okay to rest. It’s necessary! Even during a busy day, take the time to actively rest. Make time for your friends. If you’re able, take that 15-minute nap. Meditate. Join a church group or book club. Get out of the regular grind of constant work. You might find yourself healthier, more energized and even fulfilled. You never know, you might even find that you’re more productive at work too.
www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1313812/Why-rest-good-sleep-long-dont-just-slob-TV.html www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/pages/ways-relieve-stress.aspx www.mentalhelp.net/articles/socialization-and-altruistic-acts-as-stress-relief/ www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20020312/socializing-helps-cancer-patients www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2014/10/08/multitasking-damages-your-brain-and-career-new-studies-suggest/
www.nbcnews.com/id/17115245/ns/health-sleep/t/good-news-slackers-naps-can-help-heart/ www.psychologytoday.com/blog/more-mortal/201406/5-scientifically-supported-benefits-prayer www.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/opinion/sunday/luhrmann-why-going-to-church-is-good-for-you.html