Exercise: When to rest, and why it’s important

Monday, 2 August 2021

Discussions about exercise and physical activity are often centered around doing as much as you can for as long as you can. While this message isn’t necessarily incorrect, there are some equally important considerations related to appropriate rest and recovery.

Rest is vital to any exercise program, it ensures you can achieve the absolute greatest benefit from what you’re doing, both physically and mentally. In this article, we’re going to discuss the specific benefits of rest, when you might want to consider taking a scheduled break, and signs that you’re not giving yourself enough time to recover.

When we think of exercise, we often think more about how we can maximise our time spent physically active, how we can look to progress our exercise, and how we can increase the frequency or volume of our exercise. Increasing the amount of exercise you do is an important way to achieve better health outcomes, but don’t fortget to dedicate as much thought to your rest. Rest is an essential component of any physical activity plan, and ensures that you can maximise the benefits you experience from your exercise.

So, what are the benefits?

  1. Allowing recovery and reducing soreness

When you exercise or engage in strenuous bouts of everyday physical activity, you activate and use your muscles. In doing so you can create micro-tears in your muscles’ tissue which cause what we know as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). To ensure your body and muscle tissue is recovering, structured rest is essential. Rest will allow these micro-tears to stitch back up, resulting in stronger, more efficient, and sometimes larger muscle tissue. Without adequate rest, you run the risk of seeing your progress go backwards.

DOMS is a natural part of exercise, and can be an indication of the intensity of your exercise. Excessive soreness is an indicator of overtraining, which we’ll discuss shortly.

It’s important to note that over time, your body may become accustomed to your exercise and your levels of soreness may decrease. However, this doesn’t mean that you don’t need rest! Your body will still go through these changes, and rest is going to help ensure you see the most progress through recovery.

  1. Preventing fatigue and overtraining

Exercise can be taxing on the body. Rest helps ensure you prevent exercise-related fatigue, or overtraining.

When you exercise, your body uses glucose as a form of energy. This glucose can be taken up from the bloodstream which is of great benefit in diabetes management, but it’s also taken from storage spaces around the body. The more energy that’s taken from these storage spaces, the more fatigue you may begin to experience. Allowing adequate periods of rest ensures your body can replenish those glucose stores (muscle and liver), keeping you energised, whilst also experiencing the benefits of exercise in diabetes – that is, improvements in your body’s ability to take glucose from the blood into your cells. All in all, this results in improved energy levels AND improved diabetes management.

Overtraining – training excessively without time to recover – can result in diminishing returns with your training program. It leads to further increases in fatigue and overall reductions in your performance. Preventing this with adequate rest ensures you experience the greatest benefit from your exercise.

  1. Reduced risk of injury

Earlier we discussed micro-tears and allowing time for your body to repair these and come back stronger. We also touched on the concept of over-overtraining. Without rest, these two aspects of muscle repair and recovery can lead to  excessive soreness, decreases in performance, and increase the risk of possible injury. As mentioned earlier, DOMS is natural in exercise, but excessive soreness or pain after exercise can be a sign that you haven’t allowed your body to recover.

Exercise without rest puts repetitive strain on your muscle tissue. This repetitive strain, if left for too long without adequate rest, increases your risk of injury relating to our muscle tissue, or possibly overuse to your joints. Injury can be a big step backwards, and is generally avoidable. Ensure you minimise this risk by taking time in your schedule to rest.

Passive exercise such as stretching and mobility, light walking, or water-based exercises can also be a good alternative and can assist in recovery.

  1. Decreased mental fatigue

Exercise is not only taxing on the body, but also on the mind. Engaging in a structured exercise routine takes mental effort, and it’s therefore just as important to allow your mind to rest. Without it, we run the risk of mental fatigue and possibly falling out of routine or simply not having the motivation to continue. Mental fatigue might also lead to cutting corners in your exercise session. For example, less focus on technique and safety – leading to further increased risk of injury. If you feel as though your mental strength is lacking, take the opportunity to recover.

Signs you need to rest

As you can see, the benefits of rest in your exercise regime are massive, and a truly essential component of any well-rounded program.

But how will you know when you need to rest? Common signs include:

  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Feelings of fatigue or low energy levels
  • Irritability
  • Sluggishness during or after an exercise session.

You may even notice you are unable to complete an exercise session, or you experience diminishing progress (plateau or reduction in strength, fat loss). If you’re feeling any of these, take the opportunity to let your body rest and recover.

General resting guidelines

  • You can generally complete light intensity aerobic exercise (such as walking), without the need for scheduled rest.
  • If you’re completing moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic exercise, consider resting every few days.
  • Try to take at least one day of rest between each session of whole-body resistance exercise to allow for muscle repair.
  • If you are alternating upper and lower body, a scheduled day of rest every three days can help.

If you feel as though you can’t exercise because your heart and mind aren’t in it, take the day off. Pick it back up tomorrow.

The benefits of rest are clear and should be recognised as an essential component of any exercise regime. Please get in touch with one of our Accredited Exercise Physiologists on 1800 637 700 for more information.


Jonathon Fermanis
Accredited Exercise Physiologist


Keywords: Exercise

Join our community of over 45,000 people living with diabetes