Living Better Through Resting

I talked yesterday about ways we can improve our lifestyles so that we can live longer and have a better quality of life. One of those ways is to reduce stress.

man restingI know I tend to emphasize the “work” part of being healthy, largely because so many people in our society have been taught that as we get older, gaining unwanted pounds and becoming weaker and more sedentary is all part of life. Rarely do we hear that getting older is the perfect opportunity (if we haven’t taken it already) to become more active and to do a better job at exercising.

However, rest is just as important as work. In fact, if you don’t program rest days into your weekly workout routine and don’t get enough sleep, you aren’t going to make progress toward your health goals.

According to Bodybuilding.com getting enough sleep has a number of benefits for someone trying to build muscle:

  1. Repairing muscle and other tissues occurs while we sleep.
  2. Energy consumption is slower when we sleep.
  3. Sleep recharges the brain.

As you probably know, the act of lifting weights isn’t what makes you gain lean muscle mass. Lifting actually tears your muscles down. That “pump” you get in the muscles while you’re working out is added blood volume and it’s temporary.

What builds muscle is the repair job that goes on afterward, and as I’ve mentioned previously, protein is the main building block for rebuilding muscle. Stressing your muscles begins a process of rebuilding, and because you’re making greater demands on those tissues, they tend to rebuild with a little more mass to accommodate the extra effort you’re now demanding from them.

But without enough sleep (estimates go anywhere from 7 to 10 hours a night), you won’t rebuild or won’t rebuild enough to see gains, so in the end, you either won’t make progress in getting some of your lost muscle back or (Heaven forbid) you’ll lose even more.

The quick tip offered by Menshealth.com says:

If you don’t get enough deep sleep, your muscles can’t recover. Moreover, says Catherine Jackson, Ph.D., chairwoman of the department of kinesiology at California State University at Fresno, when you work out on insufficient sleep, you exercise at a lower intensity than you realize—but you feel as if it’s high. So your muscles are less likely to receive enough stress to grow.

calvin and hobbes nappingThat means you need to get enough sleep each night so that you can not only let your body repair itself from prior workouts, but be able to perform better the next day at the gym.

However, there’s more to resting than sleeping. Another piece of advice from Menshealth.com says:

Playing sports too often can sidetrack your muscle-growth goals. Muscles typically need 48 hours of rest to adapt to the stresses placed on them during exercise. “Engaging in extra activity also makes your body more likely to use any excess calories it has for fuel, and not for rebuilding itself,” says Bell.

An article at Bodybuilding.com adds:

The number one overlooked factor in building a better body is rest. If you don’t rest, then how can your muscles grow? Our bodies need the stimulus to grow such as intense training. Once this happens, our bodies are essentially “broken down.”

Afterwards, it needs the proper nutrients and recovery time to grow bigger and stronger so that it can be broken down again. So if you’re not resting any, then I would suggest you set aside a day or two of rest each week. And remember, rest days are rest days. Nothing more, nothing less.

How you build rest days into your workout routine depends a lot on what your routine is. A few weeks ago, I outlined my recommended first workout routine for beginning weight trainers at the gym. This full body resistance training program can be performed two to three times a week, so obviously those days you aren’t going to the gym (four or five) are your rest days.

Another simple routine is to switch off upper and lower body resistance exercising, doing, for example, upper body on Mondays and Thursdays, lower body on Tuesdays and Fridays, and resting Wednesdays, and on the weekends.

popeyeYou could do your cardio exercises on the same day as your resistance training or toss them in on days when you aren’t lifting, but be careful. Don’t fill every single day with some sort of workout or you’ll find yourself going backward in building muscle and general health. Just to round out my point, check out another website that emphasizes the importance of rest days and sleep in building muscle.

Of course, all this information is written for younger people, and a lot of it is aimed at amateur and professional bodybuilders, but in this case, these general principles apply to the rest of us as well, including the older athlete.

Someone once said, “The problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat!” We live in hectic times – perhaps more hectic, intense, frenzied, pressured, multi-tasking, pulled in all directions at once than any time in history. With the cell phone, email, Facebook, Twitter, texting … we are connected 24 hours a day. Even our vacations are scheduled and crammed to milk every last experience out of our time away from the grind. Is it true that he who dies with the most toys wins? Is this life? Running on a treadmill and only getting off when you fall off dead?

Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Aish.com

Since I’m writing this blog with the older person in mind, I have to assume that some of you are retired. You may think that getting rest is all too easy and some of you may actually miss the more active life you lead when you were working.

But as Rabbi Packouz points out, we live in a world where it’s actually hard to get away from distractions thanks to the modern digital age. We have so many devices and methods of communication, that just getting some peace and quiet can be more difficult than we might imagine. Just think what would happen if you couldn’t get on the Internet for even one day. Frankly, the thought is a little distressing to me as well.

Resting is more than just surfing the web and it’s more than having nothing to do and being bored. Resting means enjoying your life outside of the gym and reaping the benefits of all your hard work.

In another part of the above-quoted article, Rabbi Packouz mentions:

For thousands of years the Jewish people have had the secret to balancing life – Shabbos! One day a week from before sunset on Friday to after the stars come out Saturday night the Jewish people have celebrated Shabbos (“Shabbat” in Sephardic pronunciation of Hebrew; “Sabbath” in English). For 25 hours no telephone, no televisions, no traffic, no rushing. Shabbos is a time to reconnect to the Almighty, to things spiritual and to put the material world in proper perspective. For as the Almighty said, “You shall observe My Sabbaths for it is a sign between Me and you for all generations to know that I am the Lord, Who makes you holy” (Exodus 31:13).

You don’t have to be Jewish or religious to choose some period of time when you put away all of the annoying distractions of life and do something restful, contemplative, or fun. You can follow the general principle of the Jewish Sabbath and make it all about turning off the world and focusing on establishing a sense of peace and well-being for yourself.

walking exerciseYou can do this in a lot of ways. You can learn meditation, go on an outing with family or friends, pursue a hobby, go for a walk, do volunteer work, read an uplifting book, listen to your favorite music, even take a nap. Anything that promotes restful peace of mind and body.

Working hard is great but it’s only part of a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes we not only have to learn how to do our best at the gym, but how to rest our best and enjoy each day. Life is meant to be lived.

When the going gets tough, the tough take a nap.

Tom Hodgkinson

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