German phrase of the day: Wer rastet, der rostet

German phrase of the day: Wer rastet, der rostet
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Used primarily to encourage movement, whether it be mental or physical, this old German adage has a charming ring with a motivational charge.

“He who rests, rusts,” is the direct English translation of this common German saying.

This phrase was popularized in the mid 19th century, and warns of consequences of staying still for too long.  

If you stop anything for too long, whether it be physical activity, learning a new language, or keeping up with a hobby, you may suffer the results of staying inactive. Much like metal that rusts after neglect, your body and mind may decay and rust if you don’t keep active.

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Staying in regular movement, no matter how slow and steady that movement may be, is vital in staying fit. Regular movement and exercise does not only help muscles to stay strong, but also alleviates stress, improves memory, helps fight anxiety and depression, and leads to better sleep. 

While often uttered to old folks to encourage them to keep up daily regular exercise, I first heard this phrase when recovering from a broken leg. Moving was painful, and my physical therapist was adamant in his belief that the only way to recover was to move around, no matter how difficult it seemed. 

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Incremental movement is still movement. Small steps are still steps. What matters is that you keep going. 

While having little to do with the laws of physics, this folksy phrase is in line with what Newton found when studying motion: objects in motion tend to stay in motion, whereas objects at rest stay at rest. If too much rest ultimately causes rust, then best to keep moving!

This phrase is also the title of a track by Heidi Kabel, a popular German actress and musician from Hamburg. The lyrics of her song hail the benefits of keeping the momentum and rhythm up in life, even in old age. 

The chorus sings: 

Wer rastet, der rostet, ein Sprichwort besagt/ A proverb says that if you rest, you rust

Wer rastet, der rostet, drum wird nichts vertagt/ Who rests, rusts, so nothing will be postponed

Wer rastet, der rostet, ich halte mich fit/ If you rest, you rust, so I keep fit

Wer rastet, der rostet, “Macht mit!”/ If you rest, you rust, so take part!

So remember, if you are struggling with staying in shape, or fear that you are getting out of practice with a favorite hobby or passion, stay focused and keep it moving and grooving.


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