Resting Isn’t Cheating

A woman closing her eyes and listening to headphones while sitting on the couch

Give Your Body the Break It Needs (and Deserves!)

It’s an idea thrown around loosely—taking a “cheat day”—a day off from exercise, or a diet regimen, or even work. We are here to absolve this idea altogether: you’re not cheating. You’re resting—and that is exactly what you need. Your body does its very best work when it’s at rest: repairing cells, rebuilding muscles, calming your mind.

Resting Your Body

“Regardless of your fitness level, rest and recovery time between high intensity workouts is essential,” says personal trainer Kadee Lewis. It’s called overtraining, and it doesn’t just lead to exhaustion and burnout. It puts you at high risk of injury, because your body simply can’t keep up. “The rest and recovery period after exercise is how your body repairs the muscle tissues and replaces the glycogen in the body that fuels your workouts,” Lewis explains. Rest actually makes your body stronger, and builds endurance. While you’re resting, feed your body with what it needs. Muscle repair and growth requires protein, and lots of it. Make a point of adding extra protein to your menu.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to constantly move, we’re not suggesting you spend your rest day just vegging on the couch all day—just change it up!

  • If you’re a runner, opt for a low-impact exercise like swimming or hiking.
  • If you lift weights, be sure to rotate which muscle groups are being used.
  • Swap out cardio for a yoga class, or try kayaking or standup paddleboarding.

Resting Your Mind

It’s a beautiful day to do nothing! Some people call it taking a “Mental Health Day,” and that’s actually a perfect name for it. There is no shame in stepping away from work, or a busy social schedule, or simply the stresses of everyday life. Pay attention to your own needs, and when you need a break, take it—whatever that means for you. Turn off your phone, get lost in a good book or movie, take a nap, go on a long hike or drive. Give yourself a chance to reset, so when you return to reality you will be your best self: better equipped to handle life’s challenges.

Resting Your Diet

If you’re on a strict diet, you could even benefit from a break from that. Research shows that an occasional “cheat meal”—high in calories and carbohydrates—can jump start your metabolism. It signals your body to keep doing what it’s doing—burning calories at a higher rate—instead of adapting to a lower calorie diet.

While we’re on the subject of resting, lots of people have gotten on board with the concept of giving eating a rest—for a certain period of the day. “Fasting is so great for the body!” says Certified Integrative Health Coach Sarah White. You’ve probably heard the term “intermittent fasting”—the idea of clustering your meals into a small portion of the day, and then going 15 hours or more without eating—for instance, eat an early dinner, then don’t eat anything else until mid-morning. The idea, in short, is that prolonged periods without eating increases production of fat burning hormones, and allows your body to dip into stored up fat.

It turns out this may be a good idea for more than just weight loss—it can also help your immune system. By giving your body extended periods of time when it doesn’t have to work at digesting food and processing what you put into your body, it can go into repair mode. “Fasting can allow your body to focus on healthy cellular regeneration, which allows for apoptosis and autophagy,” explains White. That’s a fancy way of saying it allows your body to naturally purge of damaged cells, to make way for new, healthy cells. “Many people see improved mood, better sleep, changes in overall body composition (when exercising and eating healthy when not fasting), and more balanced hormones,” says White.

Remember—Do what works for your body and lifestyle—no diet or exercise regimen is right for everyone.

So really, there’s no cheating at all here—and when you take a rest day, your body is actually working its hardest to make you your best self. If you’re worried that taking days off from exercising will cause you to lose progress you’ve made so far—Don’t. You didn’t get fit in a day, you certainly can’t lose it in a day either.

Variety is key to a successful life of health and fitness. Change your workout routines, intensity of your workouts, duration of your workouts and fuel your body with proper nutrition and you will have a more successful fitness lifestyle.

– Kadee Lewis, Personal Trainer

The contents of this article are for informational purposes only. It is recommended that you see your doctor or registered dietician before making any changes to your diet.