Why You Need A Weekly Rest Day


A weekly rest day of 24 hours is one of the oldest human traditions. In this article we will discover how this largely forgotten sanctuary in time can benefit your well-being and health.

(Photo: Felix Mittermeier, Pexels.com)

We live in a fast-paced world where it is easy to become trapped in a never ending cycle of activities. Evidence suggests that middle aged Americans feel more stressed today than their counterparts did 40 years ago (1). With stress and too much activity without proper rest come negative health effects. 

As a medical doctor working in a rehabilitation center I have for many years observed how stress and lack of rest can cause health problems and disease, such as burnout, fibromyalgia, depression and other mental health problems.

The rehabilitation center where i work is run by a church that put emphasis on health, including a weekly rest day. From the very beginning the Seventh-Day Adventist church believed that there are benefits in setting one day aside from work and focus on quality rest and focus on the foundational things in life.

Research from the Blue zones (Loma Linda, California) shows that the Seventh-Day Adventists live longer than the average American lifespan. One of their healthy habits that may contribute to a long and healthy life is their focus on weekly rest.

Loma Linda, California: The inhabitants have a sancturary in time

Research (2) has pointed to certain factors that may explain some of the mediators of the positive health effects of Sabbath observance, including

  • Improved religious coping
  • Religious support
  • Diet
  • Exercise

As a Seventh-Day Adventist I grew up in a home where we observed the Sabbath as a day of rest and rejuvenation. A weekly rest day is one of the oldest documented human traditions. According to the Bible (Genesis 1) the creator rested on the seventh day and later told us to remember to rest (Exodus 20:8). If rest was needed back then, it is needed even more in our modern age. However, many people struggle to find time to rest.

Maybe it is time for a “recharge revolution” and rediscover the weekly rest day. Investing in proper weekly rest may turn out to be a transformative experience and life promoting and prolonging habit.

Why do we need a weekly rest day?

In our modern age there is a societal pressure and tendency to be constantly “on”. Throughout the week the days are filled with work, and other necessary and less important activities. We hardly get time for daily rest: Good sleep. Sleep tends to worsen the more stressed we are. During the weekends many of us have a lot of things going on preventing us from experience quality rest on a weekly basis.

Being constantly “on” increases the risk for stress related symptoms such as 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Reduced sleep
  • Reduced cognitive function
  • Impulsivity
  • Anger end emotional issues
  • Poorer health habits such as more alcohol, tobacco and sugar
  • Not being in the present
  • Pain
  • Tense muscles

Article: 11 Ways To Calm Amygdala

In addition stress may increase the risk of conditions such as fibromyalgia, PTSD, high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke and heart disease. The American Heart Association states that chronic stress is a risk factor for heart disease (3).

Can a weekly rest day actually make any difference to life? Research suggests that it affects us both in the short term and the long term.

Source: Anson J, Anson O.  Death rests a while: holy day and Sabbath effects on Jewish mortality in Israel. Social Science & Medicine 2001, 52(1)

In an interesting study it was observed that less Jewish people in Israel die during the Sabbath hours. This was true for all age groups, and the researchers found reduced mortality for

  • Internal causes (eg. cerebro-vascular disease)
  • External causes (eg. accidents)

The pattern of reduced mortality was interestingly not found among

  • Jewish children
  • The non-jewish population in Israel

As the Sabbath begins on Friday evening the investigators observed that the reduced mortality was already began to decline during Friday evening.

The researchers stated the following:

«The sacred nature of the Sabbath, its being set apart from all the mundane work-days of the week, creates a special situation in which the probability of death is reduced»

Anson & Anson

The researchers also wrote that «We have argued that this special nature derives not from what the Sabbath is not – a workday – but from what it is: a day of social gathering and family solidarity» (5)

The concept of the Sabbath is an ancient antidote to the modern fast-paced lifestyle. There are a few churches and religions that have the concept of a weekly rest day, most known are the Jews and the Seventh-Day Adventists. Observing the traditional Sabbath, as described in the creation account involves a whole day and not just a few hours of attending church.

For Seventh-Day Adventists the Sabbath involves church but also rest from work, worries, and duties that wait for us to be done the coming week. In addition to focus on God and spiritual things the day is typically spent focusing on the foundational aspects of life, being in nature, with family and friends, and let the body, mind, and soul rest from the busy week that has passed. It is also a celebration of life, seeking to be in the present and not in yesterday or tomorrow.

My personal experience with a weekly rest day

Childhood

Growing up in the Arctic part of Norway. (From left: me, my brother, my mother)

From I was a little child the Sabbath has been a part of my life. At sunset Friday evening there was a calming atmosphere in the home. Usually, part of Friday was dedicated to prepare for the Sabbath hours such as cleaning the house and cooking foods so that all the household members could rest during the following 24 hours. 

As the thoughts and words changed from trivial and casual things to the deeper and more foundational things in life, the connection to family and the creator became stronger, and life was for a brief 24-hour period lifted into a “higher” realm. 

Being in nature with family and friends has been one of the best experiences that have come with the Sabbath experience throughout life. Walking or being in nature has been documented to calm the mind and increase spiritual well-being (4).

Weekly rest day during medical school

My class with me standing number 3 from the right

The most stressful period of my life was medical school. Medical studies are not necessarily the most difficult studies to undertake. However, the vast amount of material medical students have to cover makes little room for taking a whole day off from studying. During my six years in medical school, I always looked forward to the Sabbath as a day of relief, a day where I with a good conscience closed the medical books and disconnected from the daily stress and focused on other aspects of life, socialized, attended church, and spent time in nature. Fortunately, I had friends who also had the habit of taking Saturdays off.

For me, the Sabbath is not just an option or good advice. To me it is also a command from the one who created life. I probably would not have observed the Sabbath so regularly and with good conscience during medical school if I did not also view a weekly rest day as a commandment.

A weekly rest day
The students enjoying a walk in nature after church (me number 2 from the left)

Weekly rest day as a medical doctor

After graduating from medical school I began to work as a medical doctor. now and then I have had to work during weekends, including Saturdays. Even though I usually get time to rest before or after the weekend shifts I feel somewhat out of rhythm during the weekends where I have to work. 

Bu whenever i can the Sabbath hours are for me a time when I can rest with good conscience. I try to disconnect from everyday tasks, not just physically, but also rest from work and stress in my mind. It is truly quality rest and a much appreciated weekly pause.

The benefits of a weekly rest day 

You don’t have to be a Seventh Day Adventist in order to experience benefits from a weekly rest day. Having a weekly sanctuary in time may benefit everyone, particularly in our modern age. Much of what we do is centered around the clock, while native cultures focus are task-oriented and thus less prone to stress.

Putting off a whole day for rest and rejuvenation may promote health in several ways as it may

  • Reduce stress
  • Enhance mental clarity
  • Improve physical health
  • Connect with family and friends and build stronger relationships
  • Improve spiritual health by spending quality time in nature, church, and focus on the foundational aspects of life
  • Provide opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth
  • Improve productivity

In addition there is some evidence that anticipation of the Sabbath improves sleep. In a study people who believed that “the Sabbath brings rest” had significantly less total sleep disturbance, even 4 years in the future (6)

Making a weekly rest day a reality

How can I implement a day of rest during the week? A common argument I hear is “I don’t have time to put off a whole day for rest every week”.

Rest needs to be prioritized as the time we plan to set off for rest may easily be eaten up by activities and duties that we find necessary to do.

However, with good planning and organization most people may be able to structure their week in a manner that will allow for a weekly day of rest. It is not surprising that the commandment about the Sabbath in the Bible begins with “Remember the Sabbath..”. It is easy to forget to rest in a busy week, and prioritize what we may feel is more important.

Here are a few tips and suggestions on how to make weekly rest possible in your life and get most out of this 24 hours of rest.:

  • Plan ahead – schedule downtime in your calendar
  • Communicate with colleagues and loved ones about your rest day
  • Disconnect from technology
  • Focus on activities that bring you joy and peace.

Conclusion

Regular rest is important for a good life, including physical, mental, social and spiritual health. Many people are not able to get their daily rest, or sleep, and maybe even fewer have a weekly rest day. 

Putting off a weekly rest day may positively influence your life, physical and mental health and general well-being. It may strengthen spiritual health, personal growth and help us to be more in the present. To stop, pause and wonder about the miracle of life can enrich your life in a new way.

What is your experience with a weekly rest day? How has a weekly 24 hour period of rest impacted your life? If you struggle to find time for a weekly rest day, what steps can you take to make weekly rest a reality in your life?


Sources

  1. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/people-more-stressed-today-than-1990s
  2. http://www.medicosadventistas.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/sabbath.pdf
  3. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2020/02/04/chronic-stress-can-cause-heart-trouble
  4. Keniger, Lucy E., et al. “What are the benefits of interacting with nature?.” International journal of environmental research and public health 10.3 (2013): 913-935.
  5. Anson J, Anson O.  Death rests a while: holy day and Sabbath effects on Jewish mortality in Israel. Social Science & Medicine 2001, 52(1)
  6. Viehmann-Wical, Katie, et al. “Anticipating Sabbath Predicts Higher Quality Sleep: A Longitudinal Adventist Study.” Review of Religious Research 65.1 (2023): 37-61.

Allan Fjelmberg, MD, MPH, DipIBLM

As a Norwegian based medical doctor certified in Lifestyle Medicine he currently serves as the medical director of Skogli Health and Rehabilitation Center, Lillehammer. Through consultations, presentations, articles and other public health-related activities, he motivates people to utilize the potential that a healthy lifestyle has both in prevention and treatment of disease.

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