Recovery means more than a day off from the gym.

Your body needs to recover, but you don’t want to spend rest days as a couch potato.

Your body requires rest. And while it’s not always easy to take a day off, it’s necessary. But not all rest days should be spent vegging out on your couch. And rest day doesn’t mean cheat day.

Hard training breaks down your muscles, and if you don’t give those muscles time to recover, you’re actually getting weaker instead of stronger. Giving your muscles sufficient time to regenerate is absolutely essential to your fitness plan. Lack of rest means you’ll hit a performance plateau and may even increase your risk for injury.

Boost your performance, both mentally and physically, with these activities for rest and recovery days.

Walking or hiking

Walking is good for your overall health, according to experts from the Mayo Clinic. But in addition, partaking in regular, brisk walks can lift your mood, increase your coordination and balance, and strengthen your bones. In fact, research from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that regular walking can lower your risk of high cholesterol and high blood pressure in addition to reducing the risk of developing diabetes.

Generally, experts suggest 30 minutes of physical activity each day; walking is a great way to fill up that time and simultaneously declutter your mind. If you don’t enjoy walking alone, consider inviting a friend along or setting up a weekly group walk. You can walk indoors—on a treadmill, for example—or walk outside to enjoy the fresh air. It doesn’t take much to get started. All you need is a sturdy pair of athletic shoes, and you’re ready to start.

Just like walking, hiking can benefit your overall health. However, this activity can be a little more challenging than standard walking. Use a local outdoors website to find hiking trails in your area and decide on one according to difficulty, time and terrain. It’s good to get your heart pumping on those off days, but if you’re feeling sore or tired after your hike, you might be doing more harm than good. Remember, you need rest.

Regenerative yoga

People who live an active, fit lifestyle benefit from practicing the ancient arts of meditation and yoga. You don’t have to be an experienced yogi to feel the rewards. In fact, gentle yoga is beneficial to many different types of athletes, from runners to bodybuilders, as it relaxes the mind and promotes flexibility and restoration of stiff and sore muscles.

Through yoga practice, you can learn more about your body, becoming aware of how it works to power you through your workouts and through your everyday routine. Many think of yoga as a workout in itself. However, if you’re practicing gentle or hatha yoga rather than vinyasa or power yoga, you’ll be holding poses for longer periods of time rather than constantly moving and sweating.

If you’re new to yoga, consider taking an instructor-led gentle yoga class to learn the basics. After you’ve dipped your toe in, you can always take your yoga practice home.

Dynamic stretching

Dynamic stretching is key to a successful workout plan, during your workout routine and on your rest days as well. Stretching can help to relieve muscle pain and tightness, reduce tension, and increase flexibility. If you’re feeling tension or pain for an extended period of time, consult a doctor before continuing activity.

Dynamic stretches require your body to extend in a full range of motion. Some examples of dynamic stretches include arm circles, butt kicks, walking lunges and leg swings.

At the beginning and end of a dynamic stretch session, do some foam rolling. A foam roller or even a tennis ball helps alleviate muscle tension and trigger points.

There are plenty of great ways to get out, stay active and let your muscles recover. So forget about rest days of binge watching Netflix in your pajamas!

Sleep On This

Creating a sleep sanctuary, keeping your bedroom cool, and turning off screens of all kinds well before bedtime are all important for getting a good night’s sleep. Here are a few more tips that you might want to try when 40 winks elude you.

1. See the sun
Exposure to natural light during the day promotes a healthy level and cycle of melatonin in our bodies, which helps us get to sleep at night. Go for a morning or midday walk or take your lunch breaks out in the sun—every little bit of sunlight helps. Aim for 30 to 45 minutes of sun exposure.

2. Exercise early
Exercising in the morning not only encourages you to keep to your sleep schedule and exposes you to early morning sunlight if you’re training outside but also helps your body feel ready for bed at night. If you’re an afternoon trainer, make sure you finish up your workout at least three hours before bedtime to give your body enough time to wind down. Note that if you are sleep deprived, great research shows that performance increases with sleep, so at times it makes sense to skip the a.m. gym routine and sleep in.

3. Work your legs
Just before you go to bed, do some light leg stretches or exercises to get your blood flowing away from your brain. Stretching your legs can also alleviate symptoms of nighttime leg cramps and restless leg syndrome.

4. Lie on your side
Research has uncovered that sleeping on your side is the best position to remove waste chemicals from your brain and can reduce your chances of developing neurological diseases later in life. It makes sense: 63 percent of Americans find that sleeping on the side is the most comfortable and natural position. Side sleeping also helps to keep your airways open and can improve your circulation. Placing a firm pillow between your knees will help you keep your spine in alignment during the night.

5. The jet-lag cure

If you’re going to be traveling to a different time zone, when you eat may be the key to overcoming jet lag. A study from Harvard Medical School has shown that fasting for 12 to 16 hours before you want to have breakfast in your new time zone can flip your biological clock in a single day. By fasting for up to 16 hours before your intended breakfast, your body adjusts to your new morning routine, and this can even override your light-based circadian rhythm that predicts your sleep.

Make sure you still follow a good sleep routine in your new time zone as well, and if you can, get plenty of sunlight when you wake up to kick-start your new sleep/wake cycle.

How to Power Nap

A power nap can be a good way to refresh yourself if you’re feeling tired during the day. But to prevent it from interrupting your regular sleep cycle or making you feel groggy, follow these rules:

Pick your time. You should take your nap between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to avoid interrupting your nighttime sleep cycle.

Set your alarm. The ideal power nap lasts between 10 and 30 minutes. Any longer than this and you can develop post-sleep inertia—that unpleasant groggy feeling you can get upon waking.

Get comfortable. Choose a place to nap that is dark and quiet, and take a blanket or cover up as your temperature drops when you sleep.

Practice makes perfect. Don’t expect to fall asleep instantly if you’re new at napping. Set aside time to relax and wind down before napping to give you the best chance at success.

Photo credit: 123RF Stock, antonioguillem