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Rest and recuperation are vital

A man resting.

I get asked regularly by clients about the importance of resting between workouts and how much recuperation they should have whilst following a fitness programme.

Such rest is a critical part of our functioning, with one recent survey by Sleep School (The State of UK Sleep in 2022) finding that 46% of us are currently unsatisfied with our sleep, while 58% feel unrefreshed on waking.

Anxiety, stress and difficulty switching off mentally were primary contributing factors in the study, blocking adequate sleep.

One of the issues here is the role that cortisol, the stress hormone, plays for many people in maintaining their busy lives. When pressed and under pressure, we release cortisol to deal with stress, which in turn can lead some people to think that they can cope with stress and pressure without taking time to rest because of these cortisone releases.

This is a problem, as this cortisone stress response is supposed to be short-lived. When it is triggered again and again it can cause problems, particularly for the health and functioning of our adrenal glands, which can become fatigued because of their constant use.

Rest and recuperation play a crucial role in preventing this from happening, but when we deny ourselves the opportunities to relax, we are simply storing up problems for ourselves.

If this is your lifestyle, then your autonomic nervous system (or ANS), which controls unconscious processes such as breathing and heartbeat) may have shifted to what is known as a “sympathetic-dominant state,” meaning you are unable to switch modes and relax. Anyone who is overstimulated will recognise the warning signs that this is happening; feeling tired, disturbed sleep, feeling bloated, mood swings, etc. Be alert also to weight gain around the waist regardless of how much you exercise, as cortisol stores fat for energy.