“To be, or NOT to be: that is the question!”. Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1. Shakespeare wasn’t certain, and neither are we. Especially when it comes to rest!
Rest is a double-edged sword in the battle for health. It cuts both ways. It will be your friend if used appropriately or become your downfall when misunderstood. Picking the fine line that runs between the two is the mark of a well-informed person. Optimal health and effective recovery from injury rely on you being able to discern the importance of rest in your circumstances, without conceding to its many unnecessary complications.
The last time a health practitioner recommended you to rest, were you clear on what they meant? Were they instructed you to lie down for extended ‘bed rest’ or just ‘slow down’ and avoid any aggravating activities? The difference really matters. Like a narcotic, rest is one of those ‘medical prescriptions’ that is often misunderstood and can cause more harm than good when overused.
Having worked with thousands of athletes over the years – ranging from professional elites to ‘weekend warriors’ – I am acutely aware of the dangers of overtraining and some people’s disregard to necessary recovery time. I am a strong advocate that every balanced training program must have scheduled rest time to intentionally allow the body and mind to recharge, recover and condition to the increasing demands placed upon it. Like with an athlete’s training schedule, underestimating the value of intentional rest, in your own lifestyle, leaves you vulnerable to compromising what the body needs to consistently perform. Appropriate rhythms of rest provide for better sleeping patterns, hormonal balance, energy levels, and improved vital organ function. All these things are the basic building blocks of wellness.
Further to this, resting an injury is also important in the overall recovery process, as long as the ‘dose’ is appropriate for the condition. I’ve seen people try to push through their pain inappropriately and, as a result, unnecessarily extend their recovery time. I’ve also observed many clients over-rest when in pain, or rest the wrong body parts, under the illusion it was somehow better for them. Too much rest fails to properly stimulate the body’s intuitive healing processes and can result in compromised restoration. On this basis, we desperately need to understand when to rest, and when to move, if we are to enjoy true wellness.
Whilst it’s true that many ambitious and optimistic clients need to be bridled and subdued with education regarding the benefits of rest…there are certainly others who just about need to be frightened into moving. Some make ‘resting’ an unattractive art-form. Whether they are afraid of pain, poorly informed about what to do, or just lazy, I have watched otherwise minor injuries and conditions take months longer to heal than expected simply because the clients were deceived into thinking they still needed more rest.
It’s important to understand that periods of prolonged immobility, or where you reduce otherwise normal levels of physical activity, will change the structural properties and attributes of the musculoskeletal tissues (amongst other things). For example, lack of movement in the muscular system will lead to shortening and stiffening of the unused muscle fibres within a few days. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
“Get some rest.”
How many times have you heard a well-meaning spouse, work colleague or therapist tell you this? Were you irritable, unresponsive in meetings, not your ‘normal self’ or carrying ‘bags’ under your eyes? What prompted them to say it, and what was your response? Most people mutter something under their breath and then shrug off the advice with the false rhetoric, “I’m tough. I don’t need to rest.”
In the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger tough guy film, Predator, a commando played by former wrestler Jesse Ventura is shot in the arm and doesn’t flinch. His buddy says, “Hey, man, you’re bleeding.” Ventura responds, “I don’t have time to bleed.” He did have time to die, but that’s another scene. The point is being tough doesn’t make you smart or healthy.
We have to make the time to be healthy.
Choose when to rest, and when to move. Don’t leave this crucial decision to chance.