Exercise and the Importance of Rest

Much has been made recently of the impact of Covid on mental health and how the measures imposed by the authorities, and adhered to by most of the population, have led to many people leading a comparatively solitary existence throughout the (almost) two years of the pandemic.

We know why we were asked to distance ourselves, or even isolate if we actually contracted the virus, but very few of us realised the extent to which this apparently ‘contra-social’ behaviour would impact our mental state.

‘Mind’, the charity which offers advice and support to those who experience mental health problems and campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding, is expressing concern that some people are over-reliant on exercise as a way of “getting through the day”. An uncomplicated and accessible coping mechanism.

‘Mind’ is very clear that they believe exercise is a “good thing”, but they have recognised signs that many are over-indulging such that they feel that the more they exercise, the more they will overcome the stresses and worries of everyday life; a life that has been made increasingly angst-ridden by trying to overcome and survive the virus that has caused the problem in the first place!

Research has shown that it is not uncommon for some to become obsessed with keeping fit and will continue to exercise through injury or sickness.

In fact, we all know that, during ‘lockdown’, exercise was an activity that could be undertaken more readily than most. Particularly unsupervised, solo fitness sessions.

It is very easy for people who find they have more time on their hands – and who have a positive attitude to their wellbeing and fitness efforts – to focus on their workouts and even start to feel they should be doing more.

‘Mind’ were finding that, for some, the sole purpose of their day was exercise. And exercising on their own was feeding a tendency to drive themselves too hard.

Now, as a personal trainer, I am pleased if anyone has a healthy appreciation of the benefits of exercise. It’s what makes my day. But, one of the key functions of anyone planning or supervising a fitness training class or session is to ensure that the activity suits the client/s i.e. it is neither too demanding nor too easy. By observing the exercises, whether “in the flesh”, or over Zoom, we know how our client is coping and when to “push” them a little or when to “back off”.

The other vital element of a planned fitness and well being programme is rest. PTs will always “bake in” rest periods for recovery and re-hydration into any session and these should always be heeded.

You may have heard how a top athlete “listens to what their body is telling them”. This simply means they monitor the intensity of the challenges with which they are confronting their body and psyche and adjust according to their capacity to complete the task in front of them.

Often this means they take a break from the action – be it a few minutes or a day or two. They know how to manage optimum physical and mental efficiency through a mix of activity and rest.

In the same vein, it is important to be aware of what your body (and mind) can feel comfortable with in terms of activity, both physical and mental, and ensure that you recognise the signs of strain, over-stretching, limits to flexibility etc. so that you don’t exacerbate a minor muscle “pull” and cause a major tear. Don’t be afraid of taking a break occasionally. Your body and mind will thank you.

Overtraining can lead to poor performance, plateaus and injury.

One participant in the ‘Mind’ survey says, “Health and wellbeing are about balance, and sometimes that means running a marathon, but other times it means lying on the sofa.”

Exactly my sentiments!

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