The best thing to do on a day off from working out (or a rest day) is active rest, also called active recovery. There are a number of ways to do this, but the general idea is that you do some sort of movement or activity. It should be a much lower intensity than your normal exercise.
Why keep moving?
Low intensity, easy movement or activity on a non-workout day is a great way to physical recovery. Moving your body will actively stretch your muscles, especially if you move in ways that aren’t part of your normal exercise routine or daily activities.
Muscle contraction also increases circulation to the working muscles. Increased blood flow helps your muscle recover by bringing oxygen and metabolite molecules like proteins that help the cells repair and rebuild. Increased blood flow also helps replenish energy stores. It might seem counterintuitive to work your muscles in order to help them recover, but it helps. The key is to do it gently so you get the benefits without overtaxing the muscle again.
How to do active recovery
Any movement is good for active recovery! You can gauge low intensity exercise with the talk test, keeping your movement easy enough that you could sing if you wanted to. I also like activities have you moving differently than you normally do, because this gives you some extra active stretch. You could try
- Going for a hike or a bushwalk
- Playing with the kids or grandkids on a playground
- Going for an easy swim (try some backstroke or breast stroke) or water walking
- Do some easy gardening or yardwork
- Doing a stretch class or gentle yoga session
- Incidental exercise like the ideas here
And of course, getting out and going for a walk is a great option, and possibly the most simple way to actively recover from a workout day. Doing something you enjoy is an important part of any exercise routine, including the recovery aspects, so don’t be limited by the list above. Anything that gets you moving will work, and you’ll feel so much better for it.