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The Importance of Embracing Restorative Wellness and Rest Days

The Importance of Embracing Restorative Wellness and Rest Days

As spring awakens, we shake off the winter cold and get back to gym workouts, running, group fitness classes, and playing sports. It’s easy to overdo it and find ourselves dealing with unexpected injuries. Taking time out in-between workouts for restorative wellness and rest days may seem like common sense, but how should we define rest days? 

What kind of activities fall under the restorative umbrella, and what should we eat on days where rest is the goal? Last week, I reached out to Dr. Candice P. Harding PT, DPT, OCS, PYT-c of Thrive with Dr. C. to get her expertise on optimizing and enjoying rest days. Dr. C is a physical therapist, yoga instructor, and certified integrative lifestyle medicine practitioner. BGN had an enlightening conversation via zoom last week.

First of all, tell me about your practice, Thrive with Dr. C.

Thrive means flourishing and blossoming beyond simply surviving. Our bodies are constantly trying to achieve homeostatic balance. But, when you’re ignoring or neglecting one system, another will try to pick up the slack. It ends up tuckered out, and then you get a systemic illness. 

As a physical therapist, I talk about systemic illness because the body is a unit. You can’t help someone heal from physical pain very well if you ignore everything else that makes their bodywork. Your nutrition, sleep hygiene, environmental influences, emotional states, and restorative rest days are all part of a holistic fitness plan.

How would you define restorative rest days?

A restorative rest day can be doing anything that departs from your norm when working out. People focused on weight lifting and heavy cardio going to a slow flow yoga practice could be considered a rest day for them because it’s not the same type of exertion that they’re used to putting their body through. 

A restorative rest day can also be a day where you decide that you’re legit just doing TLC, and you drink your warm tea and snuggle under a blanket. At the end of the day, it’s about giving your body a chance to heal. When we make gains physically, whether it’s for strength, flexibility, or cardiovascular, the point is to push ourselves to the edge, so that edge actually coincides with a little bit of a breakdown in tissue. 

When you break down the tissue, it comes back stronger; when you give your body the chance to recover. So, if you’re not giving your body a chance to heal and come back stronger over time, you’re just breaking your body down. The restorative piece also comes from a mindset. What do you personally feel helps you to restore your body?

I describe myself as an introverted extrovert. When I need to restore, I like to do that by myself. I can’t do that on my yoga mat in a class because I’m on my mat. If you’re someone that’s distracted by other stuff going on around you, you may not find that so restorative. You might need to do your restorative practices at home.

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Where should we place these workouts in our fitness schedule?

That really is person dependent. Some people might choose to do full-body workouts every time they exercise. Others do shoulders one day, and back and then core and legs. So that’s four days already. 

Technically, they’re allowing the prior body region of focus to rest because now they’re working a different body reach, even though they exercise back to back days. It depends on each person’s individual schedule, but you should have at least one to two days of rest every week regardless of where you put them.

What kinds of workouts other than yoga can be defined as restorative?

It might sound funny, but for people who enjoy endurance activities, running might be restorative. Runners talk about a runner’s high, which might be restorative for them. 

A restorative practice can be about any activity that allows you to tune out the noise. For some, it’s running. For others, it could be swimming. Pilates can be a restorative practice because it’s a focused embodied activity. Restorative practices aren’t one size fits all. 

I guess the restorative family would be yoga, walking, and swimming. 

I like that you mentioned walking. Time in nature, depending on where people are located, is vital for resetting the parasympathetic nervous system. There is something healing about being in nature. 

Whether you tend to see a bunch of greenery in nature or not, your body drinks up the Vitamin D and feels better. Even though you might not be consciously aware of the benefits of being outside, your body is, which in most cases, is going to help you heal more efficiently. 

What kinds of foods are best to eat to optimize a rest day?

Anything that’s a pro or prebiotic is beneficial. There are just as many, if not more, nerve endings in the gut than in the spinal column. Many of our hormones and endocrine function are also based on what’s happening in the gut. When it comes to bolstering a healing process, I would say it has a lot to do with the health of your gut. 

So fiber, like beans, spinach, collard greens, kale, broccoli, Jerusalem artichoke, and ground flaxseed, are really good. Flax is a grain, but it gets popularized for its cardiovascular benefits. What most people don’t know is that the body doesn’t actually digest whole flax. To get the health benefits you want to use ground flax. 

Apples are filled with nutrition. They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, and it just may be true. Sometimes apples get a bad rap for the amount of sugar they have. They’re actually really good for your gut. 

Taking time for our bodies to recover is vital to reaching fitness goals while protecting our bodies from injuries. As we all return to working out this spring, remember restorative rest days can be whatever we need to grow our bodies strong.

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