What is the importance of recovery

Job, family, friends, hobbies - the everyday life of many people is full of appointments and obligations that often turn into stress. The pressure increases as we are constantly trying to find out how to act faster, more effectively and smarter to get more done. In the urge for self-optimization, many people overlook the fact that breaks and rest periods are essential in order to recharge the batteries. But how should one organize regeneration phases and how much rest do people actually need?

Physical exertion: how much regeneration do people need?

Nobody will dispute this correlation: When a person performs physical activity, it takes a certain period of regeneration before a comparable performance can be called up again. How long this takes depends on the type of exertion.

Working hours - here the law regulates the maximum performance and breaks

Since industrialization, work is no longer dependent on sunlight and the season. In theory, businesses now run 24 hours a day. But there is one cog in the gears that is not geared towards constant stress: people. Here, the Occupational Safety and Health Act stipulates what the maximum loads may look like and how many breaks are required.

Specifically, this means that employees in Germany are allowed to work a maximum of 8 hours per day - in exceptional cases this time can be extended to 10 hours. However, the employer may not require his employees to work more than 48 hours per week.

Breaks are important
The law stipulates that there must be at least 11 hours of regeneration time between the end of work and the start of work. This applies in particular to shift work and hard physical activities. The regeneration phases must not be used for on-call duty, such as paramedics have to do, for example. The eleven-hour rest period may only be shortened by one hour in various institutions or branches if this is compensated for again in the course of the following month. These include the following:

  • Hospitals
  • Care facilities
  • Transport companies
  • Broadcasting facilities
  • farms

The weekend can increase performance
Generally, nobody has to work on Sundays and public holidays who has not concluded a special agreement in their employment contract. Since the late 1960s, this has often also been the case for Saturdays: At that time, the 5-day week was introduced in most German companies. But perhaps the performance of employees could be increased even more by extending the weekend further:

Microsoft tested the four-day week in its offices in Japan in August 2019. The company recorded no performance losses, but reported a 40 percent increase in productivity!

Endurance training - nobody runs a marathon every day

How much regeneration an athlete needs after running, cycling or swimming depends on the intensity of the training session and the individual training status. The level of exertion is always measured in relation to the maximum heart rate. It can be determined using a simple rule of thumb: 220 minus age. Then the following guidelines apply to endurance training:

  • After a relaxed endurance training of 60 minutes at 65 percent of the maximum heart rate, trained athletes need twelve hours of regeneration time. Untrained beginners should rest for 24 hours.
  • After an intense training session at 75 to 85 percent of maximum heart rate, untrained athletes should recover for 48 hours. A break of 24 hours is sufficient for professionals.
  • After a high-performance workout at 85 to 100 percent of the maximum heart rate, beginners should treat themselves to a break of 72 hours. Trained athletes are allowed to start the next session after 36 hours.

Strength training: how much regeneration is necessary?

Here, the body's need for breaks increases parallel to the intensity of the exercise:

  • After endurance training that involves working with light weights and frequent repetitions, trained athletes need 24 hours of rest. Untrained beginners should pause 48 hours before the next session.
  • In muscle building training, athletes use weights that they can only lift eight to twelve times before their strength fails. Those who train in this way then need a three-day regeneration phase. Trained strength athletes can shorten it to 36 hours.
  • Plyometric strength training, also: jump training, puts a particularly heavy strain on muscles and the skeleton. After an intensive session, even trained athletes should take a break for three days. Inexperienced people better give their body four days to regenerate.

Stress: When everyday life is too much for us

Some people find it incomprehensible why a desk job should stress the body as much as an endurance run. But deadline pressure, pressure to perform and anger with superiors can not only be as strenuous as physical work - they can make body and mind downright sick through certain hormonal processes.

What consequences can permanent stress have?
Stress is essentially a hormonal reaction in our organism. It is triggered as soon as our brain, or more precisely: a small nerve association called the “amygdala”, perceives a stress stimulus. In everyday office life, for example, this can be a binding deadline or negative feedback from the boss.

These stress stimuli do not differ in their effect from how our ancestors reacted to life-threatening confrontations with enemies or wild animals: The signal from the amygdala prepares the body for two archaic reaction patterns that are supposed to save us from stressful situations: fight or flight.

What happens in the body
The amygdala stimulates the sympathetic nerve, which in turn triggers a hormone cascade in the adrenal gland. This is where adrenaline and noradrenaline are released, which raise blood pressure and accelerate the heartbeat. The aim is actually to briefly supply the body with more energy and oxygen so that it can better fight threats or run away from them in an emergency. The archaic organism is of little interest in the fact that flight is a rather rare option in modern working life.

On a parallel “stress axis”, the irritated amygdala activates the adrenal cortex so that it releases the stress hormone cortisol. It has a longer and more lasting effect than adrenaline and triggers further changes in the body that prepare for an emergency. For example, it puts the reproductive organs into a state of rest so that the human body does not have to burden itself with pregnancy in an emergency.

In addition, cortisol stimulates the production of inflammatory hormones in the body. This also strengthens blood clotting and is intended to arm the organism against possible injuries and protect it from bleeding to death. While the liver releases additional glucose into the bloodstream of the stressed organism, the digestive organs stop working in order to make all energy supplies available to the muscles.

Continuous stress: when survival strategies fail
Overall, adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol prepare the body for a short-term peak load in which a fight has to be fought or an escape has to be survived. But the health of the human organism is dependent on the stress hormones reaching their low starting level again after a while.

However, if they are stimulated every day in a stressful professional situation, the survival strategies damage the body in the long run. Then a chronically elevated level of stress hormones in the blood creates the following symptoms:

  • Thought disorders
  • high blood pressure
  • Digestive problems
  • Muscle breakdown
  • Weight gain
  • diabetes
  • Loss of libido
  • Susceptibility to infection
  • sleep disorders
  • Chronic exhaustion
  • depressions
  • Burnout

The last point in particular is becoming increasingly important in the world of work in this country. After the flu and chronic back and joint pain, mental illnesses are currently the third most common cause of sick leave for German employees - and the trend is rising sharply. Almost 40 percent of early retirement can also be attributed to depression and burn-out.

These problems are homemade: Statistics from the statutory health insurances such as the TK stress study 2016 clearly show that the pressure to perform, constant availability and daily disruptions make the personal work environment the greatest cause of stress in the German population.

What does meaningful regeneration look like?

So that it doesn't get to the point where constant stress causes physical and psychological complaints, working people should spice their working life with sufficient regeneration phases. The following elements help:

Take a lot of small breaks during work
We are talking about five-minute mini-breaks that briefly interrupt phases of concentrated work. Adults are able to concentrate fully on one issue for 30 to 90 minutes, depending on their level of training.
Afterwards, small rituals such as going to the coffee machine and ventilating the office help to relax mentally again before devoting to the next task. Beginners shouldn't overwhelm themselves, but start with 25-minute work intervals that they can expand over time.

Respect the biorhythm
Scientists have identified peak performance in most people between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. and between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. A lot of head and body work is particularly easy in these windows. Between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., however, many working people suffer from a “lunchtime low”, which manifests itself in fatigue and a lack of concentration.

A 20-minute “power nap” is ideal here. This form of midday sleep allows the body to regenerate without entering deep sleep phases that would make a subsequent work phase more difficult.

After work is the end of work
Those who work longer do not perform better - this is the verdict of the well-known management professor Morten Hansen after analyzing the work habits of 5,000 employees.

The result: employees with average weekly working hours can increase their productivity in the short term if they neglect the evening for an important project and continue working. In the long run, however, this behavior is detrimental to performance.

Therefore: The evening after work should generally only be used for regenerative activities. For example a walk in the country, sports or social activities.

Insert a short vacation every now and then
If you can't get your stress out of your head, you shouldn't spend the weekends on the sofa at home - there, stressed professionals will sooner or later catch up with the office. A trip to strange surroundings is much more relaxing; even if it only lasts two days. Fortunately, today there are suitable destinations for a short trip for every taste:

  • City trips for mind people: If the ceiling falls on your head in quiet situations, you will benefit from the wide range of offers in the European metropolises. Museums, concerts, trendy districts and shopping opportunities distract your mind without letting you get bored. Active people can create a refreshing distance from everyday office life here in the hustle and bustle.
  • Landscapes and wellness promote relaxation: A wellness hotel in the middle of a green idyll offers the ideal anti-stress oasis. This has even been scientifically proven: after all, just 20 minutes of being in nature can measurably reduce the cortisol level. Doctors even speak of a “natural pill” against stress. Those who then enjoy wellness with relaxing aromatic oils in the spa are guaranteed to be able to return to the office on Monday.
  • Yoga retreats for relaxation professionals: People who have already discovered relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation would do well to integrate these building blocks into a short vacation. Weekend retreats are offered nationwide, in which beginners and professionals can improve their athletic and mental abilities in a relaxed atmosphere.

Sleep: Our natural regeneration phase

No one can live completely without breaks - this shows our daily need for sleep. Depending on age, we need five to eleven hours of sleep a day so that all of the body's processes function smoothly when we are awake.

Why regular sleep is so important
Health professionals associate chronic sleep deprivation with serious illnesses; for example with diabetes, depression, heart disease, strokes and a weakened immune system. Conversely, this means that processes take place during sleep that protect the body from stress and regenerate its forces. Not only the mental capacities recover, but also immune cells are produced and tissue is newly formed in the body cells.

For this process to work, however, we need phases of sleep that are sufficiently long and deep. Sleep is not a homogeneous state, but is divided into different phases that follow one another and repeat themselves. Experts differentiate between non-REM phases and REM phases. REM stands for "Rapid Eye Movement" and describes the rapid movements of the eyes behind closed lids.

  • Non-REM level 1: Breathing and heart rates drop, muscles relax. In a few minutes, a person slips from wakefulness into light sleep.
  • Non-REM level 2: The body functions slow down and the brain waves demonstrate reduced activity.
  • Non-REM level 3: This phase describes deep sleep, in which body cells regenerate and the immune system is strengthened.
  • REM level 4: The first dream phase follows around 90 minutes after falling asleep. The respiratory rate, blood pressure and pulse are now approaching the values ​​of an awake person again. This is followed by the phases of non-REM sleep again.

Only if there is enough time to sleep and no disturbances interrupt the rest phase, the rhythm of the sleep phases runs optimally and naturally.

Learning while you sleep? That is possible!

Scientists were able to demonstrate in a study that their subjects were able to solve a memory task significantly better if they took a nap after the learning phase. More precisely, their performance, with 80 percent accuracy, clearly exceeded that of the test subjects who had played a computer game instead of sleeping. You were only able to solve 65 percent of the tasks correctly. After another night of sleep and reactivation of the learned content, the nap subjects were finally able to remember 95 percent of the learning content.

How we can improve the quality of our sleep

Many people unintentionally reduce their sleep quality due to the wrong environment and harmful habits. For a restful sleep, those suffering from stress should take a closer look at the following sleep hygiene factors.

The sleeping environment
There should be absolute darkness in the bedroom, as the body only produces sufficient amounts of the sleep hormone melatonin when light is excluded. Ideally, blackout blinds or blinds also block out street lights and moonlight. At the same time, a bedroom temperature of 16 to 18 degrees guarantees that you don't sweat in bed and therefore wake up.

A TV set in the bedroom makes you fall asleep with flickering lighting and noise. If you still can't part with it, you should control the device in the evening using the sleep timer.

Eating and drinking before bed
In general, the following applies: Ideally, the last meal should be enjoyed three to four hours before going to sleep. Those who consume plenty of fat and protein late in the evening let their digestive system work at full speed and have a restless night.

The espresso for digestion also has a rather unfavorable effect on sleep in the evening, as it blocks the receptors that would otherwise activate the sleep-promoting hormone adenosine. Alcoholic drinks initially suggest increased relaxation to the connoisseur, but cause problems sleeping through the night in the second half of the night.

The bed
Oddly enough, for most people, the effort involved in buying a bed is barely proportionate to the hours they spend in it every day. A mattress must optimally fit the body weight and size if it is to relieve the skeleton in such a way that the sleeper wakes up without back pain and tension. An ergonomic pillow guarantees that the cervical spine can rest in a relaxed position so that no head and neck pain arise when lying down.

Relaxed evening routine
The importance of the evening should be pointed out once again: Anyone who rolls through work documents late into the night is likely to dream of problems at work and wake up stressed. The evening should be reserved for relaxation techniques, reading, sports and personal development so that it is easier to get to sleep.

With notorious minds, a note on the bedside table helps to stop the brooding: Here you can write down the tormenting thought in a key word and agree with yourself not to worry about it until tomorrow.

Conclusion: breaks are as important as food

As paradoxical as it sounds, you need discipline to take breaks. Because many people put themselves under stress because they simply cannot let go of demands in their job and private life. Even if it seems like there is no time to take a break, it should be taken consciously. In addition to the health bonus, the refreshed strength and increased motivation after a break compensate for the "lost" time many times over.