Physical fitness is a key part of overall health. But overdoing it can lead to worsening performance, a higher risk for injuries, and burnout. From marathon runners to people working on functional fitness, everyone needs to build time for rest and recovery into their schedule. Here is why it is so important.

Physical healing

Your heart, lungs and blood vessels work hard to sustain you through different levels of exercise, weather conditions and other factors. Just going through the average day taxes the body, and the more exercise you get, the more these impacts can add up. You could develop microtears or other minor damage to your muscles. Taking time to rest allows your body to heal from the stresses and microtraumas before they build on each other and raise your risk of serious injury.

Boosting your immune system

Your immune system also works hard throughout the day, fighting off potential invaders before they can make you sick. But an overtired and overstressed immune system can’t fight as hard. If you don’t take the time to rest and recover, you are more likely to get sick. And if you continue to train through the illness, it will likely take even longer to get back to peak condition.

Increasing your cognitive skills

Athletic performance isn’t just about training your body. It’s also about training your mind. Whether you are learning new plays or memorizing routines, you’ll need your brain to be as sharp and focused as possible, which can only happen when you are adequately rested. Rest and recovery periods give you time to clear your mind and improve your cognition.

Promoting peak performance

When you’re in “the zone,” your mind and body work like a well-oiled machine. Your brain can make snap decisions in the moment, and your muscles respond quickly to those instructions. But this can only happen when you are well-rested. No matter your sport or exercise program, peak performance is only possible if you make rest a crucial part of your routine. Taking time to recover means you’ll be faster, more accurate and ready to respond to changing conditions.

How much rest and recovery do I need?

Exactly how much rest you need depends on many factors, from the intensity of your workouts to your overall physical condition. But for average adults who aren’t participating in elite sports, general guidelines apply. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Adjust your exercise schedule to match the times when you are naturally most alert and focused. Take at least one day per week completely off and dedicate another day to light exercise such as yoga or walking.

And always keep an eye out for signs of overtraining. If you think you’ve been overtraining, take 48 hours completely off, and monitor your symptoms. If you feel like something is off and you don’t bounce back, contact your doctor for advice. When it comes to rest and recovery, it’s always best to err on the side of caution.