No bones about this one: If you’re a fitness fiend with a rigorous workout schedule, it’s a good idea to take a day off every now and then.
Preliminary research presented at the American Physiological Society’s annual meeting shows that rest days are vital to bone health. The study found that when people had weeks of intense workouts, they saw higher levels of inflammation and proteins that prevent bone growth in the body compared with recovery weeks.
Researchers followed 15 elite women rowers for nine months as they trained from 12 to 21 hours per week for the 2016 Olympics. Scientists took blood samples from the Olympic athletes throughout the process in order to measure two protein levels in the body: osteoprotegerin, which prevents bone mineral deterioration (a good protein to have), and sclerostin, which stands in the way of bone formation (a bad one to have).
The research showed that osteoprotegerin levels decreased over the course of the study, indicating the athletes were at risk for bone loss.
The sclerostin protein was more prevalent in the rower’s blood tests on weeks during intense training and lower when they had rest. This means that on weeks without recovery days, they were more at risk for displaying protein levels that could be harmful to healthy bones.
The authors also noticed the rowers had higher levels of inflammation, which can contribute to pain or health issues, during their intense workout weeks.
What this means for you, a non-Olympian
To be clear, you shouldn’t ditch your workout for good in the name of strong bones. After all, fitness for average exercisers typically benefits bone health.
It’s hard to know if these findings apply to us mere mortals, since the study was only conducted in a handful of Olympic athletes. But the study does add to a growing body of research that is bullish on recovery days. Previous studies have found that rest between workouts helps repair and build muscle, prevents performance or weight loss plateaus, lowers the risk of injury and, in some cases, helps with immunity.
If you need us, we’ll be basking in the glory of our recovery day.