Rest days are important. I’ve had this discussion with many of my customers. All our bodies need the time off from strenuous exercise to recover, heal and grow stronger. Without it we’ll never reach our potential.
However, recently I’ve been having a bit too much rest. And that makes it sound like I’ve been sitting on the sofa catching up on This Morning (which isn’t true – honest). In fact, recently I made the decision to sell my house in an attempt to find somewhere better to develop my business, still in Stiniog, just not where I am right now. With the decision to sell came the realisation that I would have to do all those DIY jobs that have been unfinished for the best part of 10 years. Cue 3 weeks of DIY obsession: painting, wallpapering, cleaning and numerous trips to the dump. I’ve pretty much filled all my spare time with home improvements and as a consequence any walking, running or mountain time has been shelved without a second thought. I mean, the sun has been shining and the air has been crisp and autumnal, and I’ve been indoors inhaling noxious fumes while obsessing over white gloss perfection on my skirting boards.
This is very, very not like me.
But this happens to us all. Whether induced by injury, trauma, family reasons, mental health and countless other things from the mundane to the extraordinary. Sometimes we get knocked off track and no matter how much we cherish our outside time or gym time, sometimes we find ourselves stopping doing the things we love. And it can have some unexpected side effects, as I discovered.
You might recognise a few:
Increased laziness: I’ve never been one to let the weather get in the way of being outdoors, but as soon as my brain became overwhelmed with the added stresses of house moving, it became a great excuse. It was that, or the fact that I needed to get this one thing done on the house before I could do anything else…and then when that was done there was something else…or I deserved a sit down…or I just needed to pop to the shop…or it was lunch time…all good excuses. I’ve always been honest that I am a fundamentally lazy person and keeping active is something I work hard at – but once my lazy gene kicks in it’s a tough one to kick out again.
Believe me, if you’re lazy in one part of your life it will slowly creep into other parts: you become lazy with eating habits, and when you’re eating crap you don’t feel like doing anything, which makes you lazy with seeing your mates cos you feel ‘uch’ and want to hibernate, and then you’re lazy with work because there are a thousand other things you’re not doing and work is at the bottom of the list! See what I mean? Snowball!
Moody cow: One thing I have noticed over everything else is the drastic change in my mood over the last couple of weeks. Everything has affected me worse, I’ve reacted more to things that normally wouldn’t bother me, I’ve taken things more personally and my negative internal voice has increased in volume. The irony in this one is that everyone knows that exercising gives you a rush of feel good endorphins; the more of a habit it becomes the better you feel, and the more you can maintain that good mood. In fact, when you feel low and rubbish the one thing you definitely should do is take exercise as that is exactly when it is most useful – GPs are prescribing exercise and time outdoors entirely because of these benefits – so why would anyone ever stop?
One thing I will say is that you should never underestimate the anxious brain in its ability to totally overrule any logic and sense – especially when there’s something new to get anxious about. Our fight, flight and freeze responses don’t have the same stimuli as they used to when we were hunting for our food and running for our lives. Which means other stimuli can sometimes elicit those deep seated, ancient responses instead. Sometimes when we should be active, our body tells us to hibernate.
Also, if you’re a regular with your exercise habit then you are far more likely to experience a bigger negative mood swing when you stop. I see it daily with my customers who are frustrated over an injury or going through a bad patch when it comes to motivation. And once you’re in that low it becomes harder to work back out. The important thing is not to give yourself a bad time over any hiatus in training as you’ll just be adding to the stress levels – it happens to everyone & you’ll get through it (yes, I am talking to myself here).
Fuzzy brain: I can’t remember the last time I had a proper headache but this last few weeks I’ve had several nasty ones. Part of me thinks that it could be attributed to drinking less water – I’m usually very good at keeping hydrated because I know my body needs it with all the moving going on. But less movement has meant less awareness of hydration, plus being housebound has made me a bit tea dependent too. But less activity can definitely make us feel like our brains aren’t firing on all cylinders – as mentioned before, endorphins are great for mood improving but they can also sharpen your brain function. In fact, a study recently published in ‘Frontier in Aging Neuroscience’ found that runners who had skipped exercise for 10 days had reduced blood flow to their brain’s hippocampus – an area linked with the regulation of emotions, long term memory and spatial awareness.
Also as a result of the fuzzy brain I’ve definitely been using caffeine as a crutch more than normal, and anxiety plus caffeine is never a happy coupling!
Achy & sore: This one seemed odd as you expect to get aches and pains when you exercise, not the other way around. But I’ve found after a couple of weeks my hamstrings were complaining and they’ve never been a problem before. The logic behind that? Being inactive can take its toll on the body too – muscles underused and lacking in strength are less able to do their job supporting your skeleton. Plus being in a seated or crouched position regularly means your hamstrings are shortened for long periods of time, so when you want to make use of their full range of motion they can get a bit narky. Plus if you are used to training most days then it’s possible that you’ll have some sort of withdrawal symptoms and that can include trouble sleeping and aching limbs.
What it comes down to is our bodies were made to move. That doesn’t need to be running marathons or hardcore workouts everyday. Just simple movement, like walking to the shops or pottering around in the garden.
The restart is hard: While my head has been up my arse concentrating on the mundane world of DIY I never gave a thought to getting back into things as I was a little bit in denial with how utterly inactive I’d been. But playing tag rugby on the weekend showed how much my fitness had deteriorated – yes it was fun, but my chest has never burned so hard! Then a walk in the mountains on Saturday involved a LOT of stopping to ‘admire the views’. It’s tough getting back into it and yes, in an ideal world you’d never stop in the first place. But that’s not real life.
I’m not entirely sure what the moral of this story is as I don’t think you can ever say “I’ll never let that happen again!” and truly mean it as you never know what’s around the corner. But all I can say is that it’s important to find a way of moving that makes you happy, that makes you full of joy and proud at what your body is able to achieve. That way no matter how far off the path you stray, you’ll always have the knowledge that you are able and that you can get back there – a few weeks off is nothing in the scale of a full healthy life lasting decades (hopefully).
But if you too are going through a slump at the moment – which is quite common at this time of year – maybe try taking a few minutes to tune into what your body & mind need. Be blatantly honest with yourself and don’t try and cover up the real reasons with made up crap. You’re only fooling yourself. But equally don’t punish yourself because you’re feeling like this, especially if you’re recovering from injury! It’s important to remember why you enjoy your sport or activity and by forcing yourself into an unforgiving routine you’ll only find yourself further and further from that original motivation.
Take little steps, set achievable goals and come back stronger.