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Should you take a break from exercising like Gwen Stefani?

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 (Reuters)

Former gym rat Gwen Stefani has thrown in the towel on exercise. 

“This past year, I kind of stopped working out. I think my body just needed a break. And so I did that and focused more on feeling good as opposed to beating myself up,” she recently told Marie Claire UK in an interview.

While recording and promoting No Doubt’s sixth studio album, Push And Shove, the singer, clothing designer, wife, and mother of two decided that working out, something she once felt she “had to do,” had to go. Last year, Stefani claimed she was addicted to exercising, according to the magazine. 

Related: Woman Battles Exercise Addiction for Nearly 20 Years

However, that all-or-nothing approach to exercise is what Stefani and other exercisers really need to rid themselves of, says Barbara Bushman, a professor of kinesiology at Missouri State University.

“Rest can be just as important to fitness as working out,” she says. 

More: The Do-It-Anywhere Workout

Why? Your body doesn’t get stronger during exercise. It gets stronger while it’s rebuilding itself from that exercise. Overtraining deprives your muscles of the time they need to heal, diminishing results and risking injury. 

What’s more, people who work out too hard for too long may be less healthy than people who don’t work out at all, according to a review recently published in the British journal Heart. During excessive exercise, the body releases more free radicals than the body’s antioxidants can handle, risking harm to internal organs and tissues.

“However, rest doesn’t mean lying in a hammock. Rest should be part of your workout, not an alternative to your workout,” Bushman says. Unless you have a medical condition that prohibits you from exercising, physical activity should always be part of a healthy lifestyle. Putting exercise on hold for more than two weeks can lead to loss of muscle mass and a decline in fitness.

More: 76  Best Things You Can Do for Your Body

Have you been beating yourself up with exercise? Here, five ways to make rest part of your workout, improve your fitness gains, and love the gym again:

1. Be diligent with off days
Include at least one or two no-exercise days into your fitness schedule each week, and let at least 48 hours pass before re-working any given muscle group to give your body time to repair itself, Bushman advises. For example, if you work your triceps hard on Monday, wait until Wednesday to perform a triceps-specific exercise. Also, by realizing that effective workouts can be short and sweet, you are less likely to feel that they are keeping you from your other priorities. Bonus: In a recent study from the University of Copenhagen, people who exercised for 30 minutes a day lost more weight than those who exercised for an hour a day.

2. Alternate hard and easy
Crafting a schedule that switches between “hard” and “easy” days can add variety, interest, and needed rest into your workout. Runners who train using the model suffer fewer injuries, enjoy their workouts more, and can run almost twice as far as those who exercise at a similar level of intensity during each workout, according to former University of Oregon track and field coach Bill Bowerman, who popularized the training principle.

3. Try something new
Have you stopped looking forward to your workouts? “Try out a new exercise such as hiking or cycling, or take up a team sport or gym class with your friends,” Bushman says. It will allow you to mix up your workout plan, give overworked muscles a rest, and train those you might typically miss.

More: 21 Ways to Make Fitness Fun

4. Nourish your muscles
Between workouts, focus on helping your muscles repair themselves through gentle stretching, eight hours of sleep a night, and plenty of healthy muscle-building foods, she says. Research has shown that good-for-you nutrients including protein, whole grain-carbohydrates, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, and D promote cell growth and muscle recovery. (Check out the best workout foods.)

5. Tweak your priorities
By valuing working out as a way to improve mood, fight stress, and increase energy, you’ll enjoy exercise more and consider it as something you want to do, not something you are obligated to do, Bushman says. 

The result: You’ll make fitness a priority over the long term and reap bigger fitness gains. According to research from the American College of Sports Medicine, people who exercise to feel good stick with workouts longer than those who do it to look good.