Ever randomly left your desk mid-morning to bask in the sun, head buried in a racy novel? Or taken a quick post-run nap on your lawn? You’re in tune with your body’s needs and on the right track, according to experts. There’s a term for these regular breaks — Intermittent Resting.
You’re probably already familiar with the term Intermittent Fasting — cycling between eating what you like and restricting your food intake via techniques like the 5:2 and 16:8. For the uninitiated, the theory goes like this: by giving your body a break from food you can not only lose weight, but potentially improve your metabolism and reduce your risk of certain diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Now, health and fitness experts are talking about Intermittent Resting, the idea that the body also needs to cycle through small bursts of inactivity (activity fasting, if you will) in order to perform at its best. So, can scheduling rest with the enthusiasm you usually reserve for scheduling workouts really support your health and fitness goals?
REST AND DIGEST
Nahid de Belgeonne, a former fashion industry employee and owner of a London-based fitness studio Good Vibes started creating deliberate pockets of rest throughout the day — a kind of deliberate down time — once she discovered the power of rest.
That she felt happier, healthier and more productive as a result of her new regime will come as news to nobody. But she also credits intermittent resting with making her fitter, stronger and improving her quality of movement. She now trains others in the art of snacking on rest via her yoga-meets-meditation technique, The Human Method.
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RHYTHM AND SNOOZE
Nahid explains that her theory is based on the body’s ultradian rhythms. The sister science of circadian rhythms – which control your 24 hour sleep-wake cycle – ultradian rhythms refers to the cycles that the systems in your body move through during the waking day. The concept is nothing new; it was proposed in the 1950s by sleep researcher Nathaniel Kleitman, whose contribution to the field of shut-eye is such that he’s often referred to as the ‘father of sleep’.
That the wellness industry is finally sitting up and taking notice doesn’t surprise Dr Kat Lederle, chronobiologist and sleep coach at the sleep education platform Somnia. “We’ve seen significant scientific interest and progress in nutrition, fitness and sleep — circadian health is the next big topic,” she explains.
While much of the focus in recent years has been on how your behavior impacts your ability to fall – and stay – asleep, your behavior impacts your waking function, too. “The body clock is made up of two clusters of 50,000 cells in the hypothalamus and we refer to that as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN),” Dr Lederle explains. “The SCN is like a conductor, setting the timings for everything else that happens in your body, so while your ultradian rhythms vary from system to system, your body clock ensures they’re working in harmony together. If your internal rhythms become misaligned, that can lead to all sorts of problems.”
It’s thanks to a raft of circadian rhythm research that we now understand that the repercussions of this ‘misalignment’ extend far beyond a night spent tossing and turning. A disrupted body clock has been shown to interfere with everything from your appetite to your co-ordination and mood. Extreme disruption, the likes experienced by shift workers, has even been linked with depression.
But if the behavior that contributes to a broken body clock sits on a sliding scale, with the shift workers whose livelihoods depend on keeping variable hours at one end. On the other, you’ll find the kind of habits you know you shouldn’t do, but you probably do anyway — working through your lunchbreak, doing a HIIT session when your body is begging for yoga and reading the internet instead of your book come bedtime
It’s these everyday behaviors, Dr Lederle explains, that present an opportunity to optimize your circadian health. “By becoming more aware of your body clock and adopting behaviors that supports its optimal functioning, as opposed to railing against it, you can not only reduce your risk of various diseases, but improve your day to day functioning.”
Essentially, it’s about practicing sleep hygiene, but for the waking day, too. And among the tools in Dr Lederle’s ‘wake hygiene’ toolkit is a habit that sounds a lot like Intermittent Resting. Regular rest, it transpires, is the backbone of good body clock behavior.
“I call them ‘mini breaks’, but they amount to the same thing — taking a break of up to 20 minutes every 90 minutes or so. For me, it’s sitting back for a moment and bringing an awareness to my breaths. But I think the key is doing something in that time that you enjoy. It’s not paying your bills or contacting your accountant — it’s something you’ve chosen to do.”
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PAUSE FOR EFFECT
What seems to elevate intermittent resting from your average work break is its intuitive nature; the idea that tapping into the times when your body is best primed for activity and rest could be a useful tool for those in the business of incremental gains. “Mini breaks are just one example of how aligning your schedule with your body clock can support your health goals,” adds Dr Lederle, who gives the example of planning when you exercise.
If the idea of taking a 20-minute break every 90 minutes makes your heart race (not the goal), even breaking for five or 10 minutes can help. “I’m a huge believer in doing your own experiments and seeing for yourself what works for you,” adds Dr Lederle. “If you’re truly free to plan your life in the way that suits you, the repercussions on your health and wellbeing could be huge.”
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Make intermittent rest work for you
Take a chronotype holiday
Dr Lederle suggests taking a five-day trip with the goal of tuning into your natural waking and sleeping hours. Go to sleep when you feel tired, rise when you’re ready and avoid sleep saboteurs like screens. “By day five, you should know what your natural sleep timings are, and ideally you’ll start sleeping in that time window every night.”
Find out your MEQ
By now you’ll already known what hours you like to sleep, but for a more scientific approach, take the Morning-Evening questionnaire. There are 19 questions designed to tell you where you sit on the sliding scale of morning person and evening person.
Keep an energy diary
You’ll know intuitively when your energy ebbs and flows throughout the day by the times you usually reach for a coffee or a snack. Start consciously tuning into your feelings, and noting them down. Look out for the obvious signs, like yawning, as well as how engaged you feel in a task. Keep it up for a week and see what patterns you notice. This will guide you to your own intermittent resting breaks.
make it stick
Your body clock is like a baby – it loves routine. “Anything you do that’s part of a routine will help your body clock to know what to expect, be that the time you do a workout or when you eat your lunch,” adds Dr Lederle. Once you’ve identified your energy peaks and troughs, schedule your breaks accordingly, and stick with it.
The article Can Intermittent Resting Help You Reach Your Goals? was originally published on Women’s Health UK.
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