Not exercising has the same negative effect as 7 nights of broken sleep

Rest days are necessary but how many is too many? A new study has been looking what impact having a ‘rest week’ has on our mental wellbeing, and the results are troubling.

Exercise in all its varied forms can be great for our mental health. Don’t believe us? Well, a new study – of which Strong Women was a part – has found just how significant movement can be for confidence, happiness and positivity.

We’re always talking about how movement can improve mental health but we rarely see that in concrete terms. The Asics Uplifting Minds study, led by Dr Brendon Stubbs, set out to discover how potent movement – and the lack thereof – is on how good we feel. And it found that our mental wellbeing quickly drops off when we’re forced to take an elongated break from exercise.

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50 people (including me) from 21 countries took part in the three-week study, which required us to work out as normal for a week, take a total break for the second week and then resume our usual practices for the third. On average, everyone’s wellbeing decreased, with scores that were “equivalent to the same mental impact as one week of broken sleep”, Dr Stubbs says. My own score during that week plummeted by a massive 40%.

It wasn’t just that we felt a bit down or listless; the study found that confidence levels dropped on average by 20%, positivity and energy levels fell and people were far less able to cope with stress.

After a couple of days of not being able to go for a stroll or doing my usual workout, I grew frustrated. I no longer had my usual anger outlet (running), stress buster (walking in nature) or total distractor (gym classes). And that left me feeling fatigued and self-conscious. If you’re ever been injured, you’ll know only too well how mentally difficult it can be to rest up – knowing that you might have days, weeks or months of being unable to move pain-free. Those battling long Covid or struggling with an overly heavy workload that doesn’t leave time for recreation will also recognise how quickly not exercising can impact their mood and energy levels.

But the good news is that those feelings quickly dissipate once exercise is resumed. “We found that after restarting exercise, the effects of inactivity were quickly reversed,” explains Dr Stubbs. “All participants’ scores immediately returned to positive levels, regardless of age or background.”

That means if you have had to stop exercising for whatever reason, it’s quick to mentally bounce back. Movement is always there for us, along with its many benefits.

For more mental wellbeing tips and stories, visit the Strong Women Training Club.

Images: Getty

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