Physical therapists are defined as “movement specialists.” As such, your therapist may stress the benefit of exercise and movement in a healthy lifestyle – and this is true. However, as important as physical activity is, rest is equally vital in recovering from an injury, a surgery, or in preventative care. There are several aspects of rest to consider when determining how to structure your physical therapy or exercise program in order to maximize healing and performance.
Nearly every exercise program – given by a physical therapist or otherwise – has rest days factored into it. The number of rest days in your program will depend on the type and intensity of exercise you are performing, you as an individual and your goals. For moderate intensity activity, The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 30-60 minutes, 5 days per week, with 2 days of rest. For vigorous-intensity activity, you should aim for 20-60 minutes of activity, 3 days per week, with 4 days of rest. Other sources recommend 1-2 rest days between vigorous strength or cardiovascular training sessions for optimal recovery, repair, and results.
This one is especially important for athletes, runners, and weekend warriors. If you specialize in a particular sport or activity, that one form of exercise might be all that you want to do. However, the danger in this is the development of overuse injuries. If you are using the same muscles, for the same activity, day in and day out, you run the risk of stressing your body to the point of failure, i.e., overuse injuries. Once you find yourself with a stress fracture, tendonitis, shin splints, etc., often the initial prescription on your road to recovery in PT will be rest and/or cross training. However, if you adopt these things into your program from the start, you can hopefully avoid overuse injuries in the first place. By performing a different type of exercise (biking, swimming, yoga, rollerblading, or walking to name a few), you give those overworked muscles a break while maintaining your fitness.
We all know that getting enough sleep is important, but few of us actually do get enough. The CDC recommends 9-10 hours of sleep per night for teenagers and 7-8 hours for adults. In addition to boosting your immune system and improving mental and emotional health, proper sleep can have big impacts on your physical health as well. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the body is better able to repair damage to the muscles, heart, and blood vessels when it has adequate sleep. Hormone function is improved, allowing for increased growth factors that are involved in recovery and healing. Conversely, consistent lack of sleep (or sleep deprivation) has been shown to be related to a higher risk of heart and kidney disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. So on either end of the spectrum – in preventing injury and disease or recovering from it – getting enough restful sleep each night is a simple way to improve your health.
Balance is always challenging, but finding the right formula of activity and rest can be a game changer. If that is something that you struggle with or you’re not sure if you’ve got it right, ask your PT to help you determine what might be the best plan for you. Your body will thank you.