For the longest time, I was one that didn’t really believe I needed a vacation. I thought that because I love what I do and who I work with, just taking weekends off was enough. I realized a few years ago that getting adequate rest from work and the “normal” daily routines was essential because it gave me the time I needed to clear my mind so I could have the ability to do what I did even better when I returned.
This principle is the same with our body. If we don’t take little “vacations” from our physical activities, than our body will suffer for it. This brings me to the subject of the next strategy in my back health series which is getting adequate rest.
Resting from activity is essential. The healing process of your body takes place during periods of rest. Many people do activities to improve their strength and conditioning, and although these are essential for the improvement of your physical function, the rest period between the activities is the key factor in the improvement. The activity is simply the stimulus your body needs in order to execute the adaptation process, which makes you stronger and conditioned.
Why Most People Don’t Get Enough Rest
Many people choose their activities and their schedule of activities based on factors aside from what is beneficial to their physical health. Those factors can include: social needs, psychological and emotional needs or work requirements. There is nothing inherently wrong with choosing your activities in that fashion because any physical activity that you participate in does often satisfy other needs aside from the physical need. However, if we base our decisions regarding how often we participate in an activity on these other factors, we may actually be overriding our body’s true desire for rest and recovery because we simply want to satisfy those other needs.
Why We Need To Rest
During activities, we accumulate stress within the tissues of our body. For example, in any repetitive activity: running, golfing, tennis, exercise, gardening, or even sitting, there does exist a certain amount of stress being accumulated by the body in a certain place and in a certain pattern. Let’s explore the example of sitting: when you sit in a chair, gravity is pulling you down and the chair is pushing against it, so your spine is being compressed between those two forces. That puts a specific type of stress on your disks, connective tissue, spinal muscles, etc. If you don’t give yourself adequate time to rest from the stress that you have accumulated while sitting, that stress can create some serious issues that are very difficult or nearly impossible to recover from. Such as: disk-bulges, disk herniation, etc. It is important to analyze the activities that you are participating in, and examine the frequency and duration that you do those things, to see if you are really allowing enough recovery time for your body to rest.
Many times when I bring up the example of sitting, people argue that sitting isn’t truly an activity because you aren’t physically exerting yourself. But, you are doing something. Sitting puts a stress on your spine, so it does create a specific stress on a part of your body that must be recovered from in the same way that it requires of running, exercising, golfing, tennis, gardening, etc. It is important to ask yourself how often do you do this particular activity, for how long, and are you giving your body an adequate recovery time?
This principle is the same for all the other activities I’ve mentioned, they would simply put a different stress pattern on your body depending on which activity we were discussing.
How to Ensure Your Get Adequate Recovery Time
What is adequate recovery time? Generally speaking, you need a few days of rest between particular activities and sometimes more if they are particularly stressful. This doesn’t necessarily hold true for activities such as walking and other miscellaneous daily demanded activities. However, anything that is done repetitively for a long duration and puts stress on the body (primarily your spine) is something that you do need more rest to recover from. This is one of the most difficult conversations that I have with my clients, because they are attached to their activity because of the affiliated needs it satisfies (emotional, psychological, social or work). It becomes difficult for them to even imagine sacrificing even a small amount of the activity for the improvement of their physical health, because those needs are so important to them. When those same people begin to experience a decline in their physical health as a result of those activities being done too often, then they realize that physical health truly trumps their other needs. If your physical health is not optimal, then you will lose the ability to do those activities, which satisfy those other needs.
Again, adequate rest for most people means a few days of rest. If you are golfing everyday, running everyday or sitting for long periods of time everyday, it becomes important to modify those activities so that you are doing something different each day. In essence, this does not mean to become inactive; this means that you need to do a different activity that delivers a different stress to your body than from the pervious day.
For example, if you golf, you are repetitively rotating your body. This rotation stresses the facet joints of the spine because they are rubbing against one another in a specific way. The next day, you do not want to participate in repetitive rotation again. You may be fine going to the gym and doing crunches or backbends, or even some upper-body and lower-body exercises, but not exercises that would cause the stress of rotation on your spine. The key is to exercise your body in ways that would cause a unique stress other than that of rotation, for example, a forward or backward movement. It is important to have a movement-specific view of your activities. If you engage in rotation one day, you will want to participate in little to no rotation the next day. If you are sitting one day, you will want to want to participate in little to no sitting the next day. The principle basically holds true throughout all of your activities, hobbies, exercises or sports. View these activities based on the specific movement that you are doing with your spine, and try to avoid that same motion the next day. If you want to truly be safe, allow yourself two or three days between those activities to secure adequate rest time.
The Other “X” Factor
The other side of the rest coin is sleep. It isn’t enough to simply not repeat the activities of the previous day; you have to get some amount of sleep. Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our overall health because, during sleep, we repair damaged tissue. Every day we accumulate stress on our body and toxins in our body, which our bodies must heal and recover from. Much of that recovery happens during sleep. You may understand why this is so important, for instance, if you have been ill in such a way that you have been kept from sleeping. How much longer does it take you to recover from that illness when you are unable to sleep well? This applies to anything that your body is trying to recover from, whether it is activity related, chemical stress or even psychological stress; sleep is absolutely critical.
It is common knowledge that we are supposed to sleep eight hours every night. While it is a strong ideal, not all of us get that much. If you do not get eight hours of sleep, you need to realize that you are going to need more days of sleep than someone who does get this amount of sleep. If you only sleep for five hours every night, as opposed to the eight hours, you will need extra recovery time. You may need twice as much as the person who gets more sleep, because the person who is getting eight hours of sleep is getting nearly twice as much recovery per day as you are. This is something that you should factor in to your schedule of activity. If you haven’t slept well the night before, and you wake up determined to do some strenuous activity, it is wise to be cautious because your body has not yet fully recovered from the stress it accumulated the day before and may not deal with the stress you plan to put on it today.
When people come and see me, this is one of the things I ask them, “How do you sleep? Do you sleep well? Do you wake up feeling rested? Are you consistent in your sleep patterns, or do they change often?” The answers are an indicator to how quickly someone will recover from whatever ailment that they are seeking my help with. There isn’t much that I can influence over sleep, and even taking sleep medications isn’t a resolution. These medications suspend you between consciousness and unconsciousness in a hypnotic state; they do not give you the adequate rest and recovery that sleep under normal circumstances would provide.
Be mindful of how you are sleeping and how you are resting from activities. They play a large role in recovery and in long-term health of your spine. Remember this information also applies to other parts of your body as well- knees, feet, hips shoulders, not just your spine. Make sure you rest your parts so they will stay happy and healthy!
Have a great day and please forward this to any friends or family who would benefit.