Working out is key to staying fit and healthy, but people sometimes overdo it. It's important to learn when not to exercise. You need enough rest in between exercise sessions to prevent overtraining syndrome and to avoid sports injuries.
Research shows that most adults should take one or two full rest days every week. The exact number of recommended rest days depends on a range of factors like your age and activity levels.
Symptoms of overtraining
Working out too much is called overtraining syndrome (OTS) and can lead to poor physical performance and health issues. You may experience the following symptoms if you have OTS:
If you have symptoms of OTS, you may need to stop exercising for anywhere between 4 weeks to 12 weeks, depending on the particular exercise you were doing. If the symptoms are still there after this rest period, see your doctor.
Working out too much can also lead to sports injuries. The most common include:
- ankle sprain
- groin pull
- shin splints
- tennis elbow (epicondylitis)
- hamstring strain
- knee injury (anterior cruciate ligament tear or patellofemoral syndrome)
In general, you're most likely to get sprains or strains. A sprain happens when the ligaments connecting bones within a joint are stretched beyond their limits or torn. A strain happens when tendons connecting muscles to bones are stretched beyond their limits or torn.
To prevent OTS, you should take a full rest day from working out at least once a week. Other precautions against overtraining include:
- drink water during exercise
- get eight hours of sleep
- don't exercise when you're sick or stressed
- avoid exercise in extreme weather conditions
- eat enough calories for your activity levels
The number of rest days needed also depends on the intensity and type of activity performed. If you do strength training, it can take 72 hours for your muscles to recover fully from one session of exercise. In this case, resting for three days afterward is advisable.
Appropriate exercise according to age
Generally, adults aged between 19 and 64 should try to do at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week.
Moderate activities include speed walking, cycling, tennis, hiking, and dancing. Vigorous activities include running, swimming, soccer, football, and martial arts. The workouts should be spread equally across four to five days of the week, leaving a day or two for rest.
If you're over 65, try to incorporate some light physical activity every day of the week. Light activities can be done around the home and include slow walking, cleaning, and vacuuming. If you're not used to vigorous activity, aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity every week spread across four to five days as normal.
Children aged 5 to 18 can withstand daily workouts. They should aim to do 60 minutes of moderate activity every day of the week.
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What to do on rest days
It's important to eat enough protein, even when you're taking a day off from working out. Protein helps to grow and maintain the size and shape of your muscles when combined with regular exercise.
Foods rich in protein include:
- lean meats (beef, lamb, pork)
- poultry meats (chicken, turkey, duck)
- dairy products
- beans and legumes
Working out can cause inflammation and sore muscles. Avoid inflammatory foods like refined carbohydrates (e.g. sugar), fried foods, processed meats, and soda on rest days.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Harvard Health: "Foods that fight inflammation."
Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Science: "Chronic Low-grade Inflammation after Exercise: Controversies."
Journal of the American College of Nutrition: "Dietary protein to support anabolism with resistance exercise in young men."
NHS: "Physical activity guidelines for adults aged 19 to 64", "Physical activity guidelines for older adults", "Physical activity guidelines for children and young people."
Rady Children's Hospital San Diego: Overtraining Syndrome/Burnout."
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "A series of studies--a practical protocol for testing muscular endurance recovery."
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