Rather than feeling guilty about a fitness schedule de-load over the festive season, here's how taking a breather can be beneficial to your goals. Angelique Tagaroulias writes.



The good news is that toning down your training during the festive season can actually benefit – rather than diminish – your health, says nutritionist, trainer and founder of Balance Fitness and Nutrition Brooke Turner; but this depends on the duration of your sabbatical, along with your activity levels and nutrition. For example, someone who trains six days per week taking a six month break is different to slowing it down for a couple of weeks over Christmas. Plus, your ability to retain muscle mass and cardio fitness differs from person to person and depends on how hard you’ve been training.

Generally, between one to three weeks’ break is okay – although tapering, rather than halting, movement is recommended.

“Tapering refers to the reduction of exercise before a competition or race, believed to be essential for best performance. Taper periods can range from one to three weeks – about the timeframe that you would want to increase your training so you don’t lose excessive strength and fitness,” says Turner.

“All of life’s stressors, including the stress generated from exercise and inadequate rest, compound. Tapering your training for a period of time can have beneficial effects on your hormones, mindset, recovery and reaching your goals.”

But again, this depends on the individual – especially mentally.

“My clients often tell me that even a period of a week without exercise has a negative impact on their mood, anxiety and stress levels,” adds clinical psychologist Dr Yuliya Richard.


Mindset & hormonal benefits

“A lot of women put pressure on themselves to be hitting certain exercise and physique goals, and believe taking a break will cause them to lose all fitness. But this isn’t true. Your muscles won’t shrink overnight and as long as you are doing some kind of movement, you will maintain your cardio fitness. Plus, a short break can give you a newfound motivation to hit the gym when you do go back,” says accredited exercise physiologist Sarah King.

“Exercise is a stress on your body, and a short break can lower inflammatory hormones such as cortisol. This is important because too much of this hormone can wreak havoc on your health, causing weight gain around your waistline and an increased risk of diabetes.”

And you don’t need six days of high-intensity training to reap benefits in the mental stakes. Research suggests that even a single bout of exercise can lead to substantial mood improvements. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that 30 minutes of walking and interval training per day for a period of 10 days resulted in a significant reduction in depression in suffering individuals.

Physical benefits

Many women overtrain and undereat in pursuit of the ‘perfect’ body, which can cause plateaus and even weight gain. In this instance, a reduction in training can help prevent burnout, rebalance hormones vital to a lean body composition and allow muscles to repair and recover.

“If you undertake regular exercise for periods of time, your body adapts to the forms of training, the energy systems targeted and you may notice a plateau in your strength, fitness, and weight loss or performance goals. This is also the case when overtraining,” says Turner.

“Taking a period of time to ‘tone down’ your training allows your body’s adaptive mechanisms to reset, ridding it of fatigue and allowing full recovery. Research has shown that periods of de-loading followed by a return to training actually result in increased weight loss and support strength and fitness gains.”

Reducing your training can also help to rebuild and boot your immune system through longer periods of rest and decreased stress on the body.

“When the immune system is responding, it floods overworked areas of the body with fluid to help cushion those areas. This can lead to increased risk of injury and inflammation,” says Turner.