Let it Rest

As a culture, we have gotten so good at promoting pushing your body to its limits, becoming stronger, faster, and more productive than thought possible. While exercise clearly has numerous health benefits and is an essential component of any healthy lifestyle, this super-athleticism comes at the expense of the equally important rest and sleep components. All of the cells in our body need rest to recover, heal, regenerate, or even just to do their job. In fact, our ability to push ourselves to our limits, relies largely on the quality of our sleep.

Sleep plays a vital role in good health and wellbeing throughout your life, protecting both your physical and mental health. Recent research even suggests that inadequate sleep impacts the way your body responds to aging, particularly with respect to cognitive functioning. This is no big surprise since we know that during sleep, the brain is busy forming new pathways, improving your ability to learn and remember new information. Whether you’re learning math, how to play the piano, how to perfect your golf swing, or how to drive a car, sleep helps enhance your learning and problem-solving skills. It also helps you to pay attention, make decisions, and be creative.

Studies also demonstrate that sleep deficiency can alter activity in some parts of the brain, making it more difficult to problem-solve, control your emotions and behaviour, and cope with change. Further, sleep deficiency has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behaviour. The risk is heightened in sleep-deprived children and teenagers because it is a period of such rapid growth.

Physically, sleep can impact your heart’s ability to heal after damage, and sleep deficiency increases your risk of heart disease, kidney disease, hypertension, diabetes, and stroke. Sleep deficiency also increases the risk of obesity across all age groups, as well as the risk of diabetes, in part due to the impact of sleep on hormone balance, including those that control hunger and blood glucose regulation.

Your immune system relies on sleep to stay strong. Ongoing sleep deficiency can change the way in which your immune system responds to insult, thus reducing its ability to fight off common infections such as the cold or flu.

These principles of rest, recovery, and regeneration are particularly important to understand for those who are tackling a training program. Finding balance while exercising heavily is important because not allowing your body to compensate for the stress on your nervous system, the muscle fatigue, and the impact on your internal organs can result in injury, burnout, and reduced performance. Resting, adopting regeneration strategies and doing active recovery sessions are as important as hydration and proper nutrition in enhancing strength and performance.

Some basic recovery-promoting strategies include hydration before, during and after exercise to ensure you have adequate joint lubrication to reduce your risk of injury, in addition to promoting an optimal electrolyte balance. Even a 2% reduction in weight due to dehydration can lead to a reduction in performance of at least 10%. A diet that includes adequate protein, complex carbohydrates, and vitamins/minerals is important for maintaining glycogen stores, building and repairing muscle, maintaining electrolyte balance, and reducing free radical damage. Some athletes find that adding an amino acid supplement aids their muscle recovery after particularly intense training sessions.

Muscle fatigue is generally pretty obvious in larger muscle groups, but is more difficult to be aware of in smaller muscle groups, so it’s always important to support muscle regeneration. Contrast hydrotherapy in the shower or bath will increase circulation, flushing metabolites out of tired muscles, while decreasing inflammation and swelling. When alternating with hot/cold showers or hot bath, cold shower, always finish with cold. Another tool for enabling your muscles to recuperate after a heavy bout of exercise is to incorporate active recovery, or a lighter workout of a low intensity and shorter duration to increase blood flow, prevent metabolite buildup and reduce acidity.

We have become a society that celebrates and rewards excessive training and excessive working. People are proud of working 80 hours a week or working all night, and training to exhaustion, without realizing the long term impact this behaviour has not only on their overall wellbeing, but also in continuing to perform the tasks that they are training for or working at. As much as we celebrate people who work hard at whatever task is at hand, we should celebrate those who are able to find the balance needed to live long, healthy, and happy lives.