Q&A: Should I Take a Day Off or Just Run Easy?

If I feel tired during the day, should I take the day off from running, or just take it easy on the run? And what can I do to feel better more consistently?

 

It’s important to assess what kind of tired you are feeling. Are you feeling physically or mentally drained? “Feeling tired” is subjective, and it’s important to recognize your threshold and listen to your body.

If you’re feeling physically fatigued, it may be better to put the time that you would have spent working out into resting. Incorporating rest and recovery into your regimen can help prevent injury.

In addition, when individuals are physically tired at the start of their workout, they tend to lose proper running form as the workout progresses. Muscle activation patterns may be altered due to fatigue, resulting in an increased risk for injury. If you run when you’re tired, your cadence slows and your stride length tends to increase in turn, markedly increasing the “braking impulse” or impact shock on your lower extremities. This change in running pattern also makes your running less efficient.

If you’re feeling mentally fatigued, however, running may be just what you need. Exercising lightly for at least 20 minutes most days of the week has been shown to improve energy levels and decrease fatigue. Regular exercise increases strength and endurance and helps the cardiovascular system to run more efficiently, resulting in greater oxygen and nutrient flow to your muscles and tissues. Exercising also releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of pleasure and happiness. 

You can take steps to reduce physical and mental fatigue by changing some of your daily habits. Ask yourself:

  • Are you getting enough sleep?
  • Are you staying hydrated throughout the day?
  • Are you consuming enough iron?
  • Are you eating regular meals, especially breakfast?
  • Are your work and home spaces tidy?
  • Are you avoiding stress and burnout?

A “no” answer to any of these questions may be the reason you lack the energy to run. If your fatigue is chronic, and you have already tried to alter your lifestyle, you may want to consult a physician for a further evaluation. Keep in mind that running can help reduce negative stress that causes fatigue by subjecting you to a low-level form of stress that increases the heart rate and triggers a burst of hormonal changes. Over time, the body becomes better at handling this stress; the process also energizes you, improves your confidence, and eases anxiety.

ABOUT THIS CONTRIBUTOR

Tracey Colantonio

Tracey Colantonio, PT, DPT, is a doctor of physical therapy at Hospital for Special Surgery. She did her undergraduate work at Manhattan College and her graduate studies at Hunter College. She played soccer in college and has since found a love for running. She is passionate about sports medicine and specializes in treating orthopedic injuries.

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