It’s True: Taking a Break Really Can Help

By Jonathan Dugas

Every day it can seem like there are a million reasons not to take a break. Life can be busy! When the “To Do” list is a mile long, the last thing you think you have time for is a break or a time out. How can you work through your list if you pause for 20 minutes to catch your breath? In those instances, it can really feel like taking a break is the last thing you can afford to do. But what if it was those times when you feel most overwhelmed that taking a break can most help you?

Our brains work hard to keep us on top of life. Balancing all the activities each day is hard work. Our brains are constantly processing information and helping us make the “best” decisions. However, especially when trying to navigate a complex series of events, even our remarkable brains can struggle. This is when pausing can really make a difference.

The brain is an incredible organ, but it’s not a computer. Just like any other part of our body, the brain can work to its limits, but it needs periods of easier activity or rest to perform optimally. This is especially true when learning new tasks and completing complex activities. In 2021, brain researchers published a study in the scientific journal “Cell Reports.” In it, studied the activity of our brains while people try to learn a new activity, but also when they take breaks. The most interesting finding was that during the rest periods, the participants’ brains were actually very active. The brain uses the rest periods to replay the task again and again. This is part of how we learn.

The same finding can be applied to helping our brains navigate our daily lives. Most of the time our brains do a good job managing our activities and tasks. Sometimes we need a short rest period, but some activities are better than others when it comes to taking a break.

The most important activity to avoid is social media. Scrolling through your feed can seem like a good break because you don’t have to think. However, other research has shown that social media can leave us anxious and that it is not a healthy way to pause. Instead, taking a walk, even for 5-10 minutes, is arguably the best way to recharge your brain, but other activities like meditating or even just daydreaming can help. Just remember that even short breaks can help. You do not need to take 30 minutes or longer to feel refreshed. Like most of our bodily systems, our brains are resilient and can bounce back if we just give them the chance.

With a PhD in Exercise Physiology, Jonathan Dugas spends his days thinking about how we can help more people be more active.  With four Ironman finishes and 13 marathons and counting, he’ll see you out on the road.

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