Why active rest is NOT just for fitness

“I need to rest… But I don’t understand resting will help me become more productive!”

BE HONEST: Has the above statement ever crossed your mind?

Better yet, has that statement ever crossed your mind, but you ignored it and continued to work?

And final question: Did you burn-out after continuing to push yourself beyond your limits?

👋 Well, I answer yes to all those questions, and I unfortunately learned the hard way about the necessity of resting.

And that’s why I’m here to explain the benefits that taking a rest has on your health, and how you can actually use rests to boost your productivity.

Habit coach sitting on a bench in Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton,  Alberta.

Remember that a “break” should be an “active rest”

When it comes to physical fitness, active rest is very important for productivity in the gym.

Active rest (or active recovery) is when you engage in low intensity and short duration movement, after an intense workout (1). Examples of active rest during a workout are doing full-range of motion mobility movements in between sprints as opposed to standing still, and doing yoga on days you don’t lift weights as opposed to not working-out at all. The benefit of active rest as opposed to passive or inactive rest is that it keeps blood moving through the muscles so that they can repair at a quicker pace (2).

So, the quicker your muscles repair, the quicker you can engage in high intensity workouts again. Therefore, by taking active rests, you will be able to do more workouts, lose more fat, build more muscle, and overall improve your physical health quicker than if you engaged in passive / inactive recovery.

Now, for the fun part… let’s apply the active rest concept to your mental and emotional health:

When you engage in light activity to keep your brain thinking and your thoughts organized, you’ll be able to recover more quickly from stress and burn-out, as opposed to taking a rest by turning off your brain completely.

“So How Do I Active Rest for My Mental Health?”

1) Utilize Your Time, Don’t Abuse Your Time

A clock, which signifies the importance of time

Here’s a big myth: sipping pina coladas on a tropical beach helps reduce stress levels.

And here’s the reality: sipping pina coladas on a tropical beach could clear your mind! But just remember, if you don’t utilize your time, the vacation will eventually end, you’ll get back home, and your stress levels will be exactly where you left them.

To best utilize your vacation time, I recommend you keep mind slightly engaged instead of simply mentally removing yourself from daily life.  You can do this by researching self-care tools so that you’ll be ready to counter your stress when your vacation ends.  When you take this time to fill-up your self-care tool belt with the proper tools, you will be able to manage your work/life stress quicker and you’ll be more resilient to future stress.

One of the most useful self-care tools I’d recommend is meditation. Learning to be okay with isolation instead of stimulation can help manage the constant overwhelm experienced in everyday life.  Another one of my favourite self-care tools is listening to binaural beats.  Binaural beats are essentially two different sound frequencies played at the same time, with one frequency being heard by the left ear and the other frequency being heard by the right ear.  The key to hearing the sound frequencies separately is to use headphones; and once heard, your brain interprets a third sound frequency based on the mathematical difference between the two frequencies playing.  What happens next is called Frequency Following Response, where your brain produces brain waves at the same frequency as the interpreted third frequency (3).  Brain waves at this frequency – and there are 5 states of brainwave frequencies that can be attained – produce associated benefits such as relaxation, focus, deep sleep, memory recall, etc. (4).

In addition to meditation and binaural beats, reading non-fiction personal growth books and listening to self-development podcasts can provide you with tools and motivation to to manage the stresses of daily life.

So remember that taking a rest should not mean “doing nothing”; rather, it should mean “taking a quick step away from day-to-day activities so you can learn to operate better, day-to-day”. This is a great time to plug the phrase, “work smarter, not harder.”

2) Reorganize Your Schedule

Maybe you feel overwhelmed because you don’t manage your time well.  Are you taking-on an appropriate amount of work? If you are, maybe you need to schedule yourself better so you know which tasks are top priorities.

When we don’t record tasks and projects in a planner, we end up storing them in our brains. This creates unnecessary stress and a lot of overthinking.

So instead of using a weekend to take your mind off work, keep your mind on work for a brief time. Keep your mind on work for just as long as it takes to write everything in a planner, on a calendar, in the notes in your phone, etc.. Then as soon as you write it out…LEAVE IT THERE. Remove the task from your brain and let it live on the paper until you need to revisit it.

Even go the extra step by finding a planning tool that allows you to be creative.  I personally enjoy using a dotted journal because it allows me to add colour to what are often simple and boring pages, and I often record personal intentions for each month so I can better channel my energy and focus.

You know what they say, “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. So write it all out, and pick it up as needed.

3) Don’t Stop Using Your Brain… Even When You Think You Should Stop

So if you have your schedule organized and you have the right tools but you still think you need a break, then take one. BUT make it temporary and remain in a lightly active state.

Keep yourself thinking lightly by reading, colouring, tinkering, playing, listening to podcasts, engaging in recreational activities, and interacting with other people. Playing brain games are great and all, but for light and effective stimulation, nothing is better than sticking yourself in a real-life scenario.

By remaining in a lightly active state, you will have an easier time transitioning back to daily life and problem solving.

And if you still don’t buy the “active rest thing”, here is a common example of the same concept used in emotional recovery:

When someone close to you passes on, you need to grieve – you need to think about that person and remember how special they were to you during their lifetime. When you grieve, you are temporarily reducing your daily activities and energy output to make time for remembering a loved one who has passed on.  After spending time grieving, it becomes easier for you to re-engage in your regular daily activities.

So remember that improving your overall health and therefore your productivity is not best done by “taking a break”, but rather by taking an active rest. Utilize your time instead of abusing your time, and you’ll always be able to recover ❤✌

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*Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional. Any information and content on my website is not a substitute for professional health advice.

(1) https://www.verywellfit.com/active-recovery-3120779
(2) https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5456/passive-vs-active-recovery-which-is-more-effective
(3) https://www.binauralbeatsmeditation.com/the-science/
(4) https://www.binauralbeatsmeditation.com/the-science/

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