I’ve always prided myself on being pretty active.
It is, after all, my job as a yoga and pilates teacher to facilitate safe movement for people.
And in the town in Italy where I live, there are endless opportunities to stay active.
I help my husband with his holiday and outdoor business Explore Tuscany: yes, this involves LOTS of hiking up mountains.
I’ll often go for a walk along the river, ride my bike 40 minutes to the beach instead of driving (the thought of finding parking in summer is disincentive enough) and walk to the shops to buy groceries.
And when it comes to new work out trends, I’m willing to try anything. When a new pole dancing studio opened in the town two months ago I was first in line for a trial class, followed the studio on Instagram and even signed up for a few lessons. (Verdict: Well, I’m not a natural).
Even before I made the switch from corporate life in Australia to country life in Tuscany, I would plan my weekly workouts with enthusiasm and would even more enthusiastically beat myself up if I missed one of them.
But it turns out there are plenty of good reasons to have a cup of tea and a lie down instead of hitting RPM. Or just taking the pressure down, as Johnny Farnham might say.
Last week, I took a week off exercise. It wasn’t intentional.
It just sort of happened. In between feeling a bit under the weather, taking a course of antibiotics to give my perennially troublesome sinuses a break, having tonnes and tonnes of administrative work to do (hello, Italy!) and realising I didn’t need to smash myself, I ended up having a whole week without a to-do list or a workout, which for me, is practically unheard of.
And it turns out overtraining and overdoing it is a real thing. And the benefits of stepping off the treadmill (literally and metaphorically) are real.
Here’s what happened.
I lost weight
Yeah, really. Maybe it’s temporary, or inflammation settling down, but I almost felt my body breathing a sigh of relief and saying: “thank you for finally listening to me”. You can’t just train and train without giving yourself some down time.
Even (and especially) if you live in a carb-worshipping country and there is olive focaccia around every corner. Your body will just stop responding. Overtraining is possible. Recovery allows time for muscle tissues to repair and energy stores to renew. Tightness that had plagued me for ages dissolved. I had tried every kind of yoga (and other) trick in the book to try and get rid of it. Turns out, I just needed to lie down for a while.
I slept better
I recall the days of teaching, attending 6am fitness classes, working full time and trying to run a business on the side. I now look back and wonder how I didn’t just break down at some point.
I remember that feeling at about 10pm when I would wonder whether I should pull out of the morning class and get an extra hour of sleep. I would always choose the class.
When I was training for marathons I loved to run late at night. Runners high? Yep. Sleep afterwards? Nah.
All of a sudden, instead of forcing a coffee down my throat at 5.30am so I could stay awake during a 6am class, I slept. And after a week I felt calmer and more refreshed. There’s also a huge body of evidence to show how lack of sleep really messes with the hormones that regulate appetite.
I paid more attention to what I was eating
It’s really easy to make decisions about what goes on your plate by convincing yourself you can outrun your fork. Or in my case, gelato spoon.
Ever seen the quote: ‘will run for cake’ on Instagram? Bad news is you can’t. Consensus is, eating less is far more important than exercise if you are looking to control your weight.
Because I knew I wasn’t expending much energy, I ate less. Because I was sleeping more, I was awake less hours to eat. I know it sounds so basic, but I have a long history of hitting up the pantry for a snack after dinner. If you’re asleep, you can’t. I thought twice before having more of anything. And I ate lighter foods like soups and salads.
By the end of the week, I felt ready to restart
After a week, I found I was relaxed. I felt more alert and was ready to go again. I found myself approaching tasks with more enthusiasm and better energy. Maybe it was just the break in routine, or the psychological effect of taking the load and the pressure off. But I found myself re-reading the mission statement I’d written for the year and looking honestly at where I thought I could do better – not with a guilty or burdened mindset, but with fresh eyes. I felt more positive, and lighter in spirit.
The verdict: everyone should take a week off, from goals and from workouts and lay down on the couch a bit more, stat.