Are you working towards achieving a health and fitness goal?
Have you achieved it yet?
Chances are you’re on a journey to doing just that. You may be feeling that you haven’t worked hard enough, that more is better, that you can push harder, you can train/exercise more frequently, lift more weight, run more miles, eat less food… Whatever your goal may be, you’re not satisfied with the results you’ve had and how far you may have come.
Now, there is nothing wrong with not being satisfied and for many people they do need to work harder in certain aspects of their health and fitness; but simply working harder may not be the answer to you achieving your goals.
Before we go into the details of recovery, we need to understand stress; the role it plays in our lives, how it affects our training and ability to recover effectively.
A stressor is something that disrupts homeostasis.
Homeostasis is the state of dynamic equilibrium, meaning the body’s ability to return to baseline and to balance various elements in a relatively stable way. Biological homeostasis would be involving maintaining a relatively constant body temperature, hydration levels or energy balance.
A stressor produces a stress response which is designed to get our attention, manage any threats and deal with any damage to return our bodies to homeostasis ASAP.
There are many types of stressors and they add up. It can be something real and external or something that we perceive of imagine (like a threat to our ego).
Stressors can be:
- Physical – Exercise, poor nutrition, poor sleep, illness, injury, jet lag, alcohol, smoking.
- Mental – Anxiety, rumination, decision fatigue, perfectionism, mental illness.
- Emotional – Grief, loss, sadness, anger, fear, shame, feeling alone or isolated.
- Environmental – Disrupted light-dark cycles, pollution & toxins, noise, odours, extreme conditions e.g. heat, cold, altitude.
- Relational/Social – Unsupportive or dysfunctional relationships, social rejection or judgement, lack of ‘belonging’ or community.
- Existential – Hopelessness, apathy, loss of certainty or belief system, purposelessness, worrying about one’s place in the world.
The allostatic load is the total load of all stressors added up.
This is why the amount of stress that a person can handle in the form of physical activity can differ from person to person.
The stress response is our bodies way of protecting us, it helps us stay focused, and makes us stronger and more resilient. But once we exceed our individual ability to recover, stress can chronically damage our bodies, our mood, our productivity and our quality of life.
Stress and recovery are linked. When we respond, recover and adapt, stress makes us better. It helps us grow, change, and improve. We want to experience stressors that are short-lived (mins or hrs) and involved in positive life experiences. We want to avoid stressors that last a long time, are negative and demoralising and that leave us worse off than before.
Now that we have a better understanding of stressors in our lives, we can discuss the most important ways to respond more effectively to them.
Create purposeful recovery
We live in a stimulating 24/7 world that encourages to do more at all times. A lot of people find it very difficult to slow down, deliberately take care of themselves and replenish. Because of this we need to make a purposeful effort with our recovery. Let’s start with the basics:
Probably the most undervalued area of recovery that is free of charge and everyone has access to – Sleep is by far the most important area of recovery. If you’re not getting it, you are crippling your brains and body’s ability to recover not just from your exercise and training but from life in general. Get your 7-9hrs a night, prioritise sleep hygiene, create a ‘pre-sleep ritual’ and avoid sacrificing sleep for nonsensical reasons.
Having a solid nutrient-rich diet is fundamental to anyone who wants to live a healthier life and improve their recovery. Focusing on eating less processed food, adding whole grains, colourful fruit and vegetables, beans and legumes, whole fresh cuts of meat, fresh fish and seafood, nuts and seeds and staying hydrated will ensure that you’ve covered your basis. If you’re pretty consistent with these behaviours, then you can start to work on more targeted areas like making sure to have enough carbohydrates 1-3hrs before and after exercise. Eating protein at regular intervals around workouts and drinking enough water before, during and after training.
Recovery through movement are very common practises, yoga being one of the most popular methods people use. It’s important to understand that the best mobility and movement recovery is the one that works for you and your body.
Some low-level repetitive movement/aerobic work is great especially if it’s outside the norm of your regular stressors, this can be a bike ride, hike, vinyasa flow Yoga, a swim, a walk etc. Simply being outside, especially in nature can help us ‘reboot’ as well.
Purposeful mobility work is designed to improve your body’s usable range of motion, joint health, physical capacities and function. There are a lot of ways for you to improve your mobility and to keep it simple you can think of the best mobility work is sometimes the methods you’re not already using. Make sure you’re listening to your body and use it to build more awareness of physical limitations and abilities.
This practise helps to engage our parasympathetic nervous system or “rest-digest system” and effectively balances our usually over-stimulated sympathetic nervous system or “fight-flight” system. Practises can include seated meditation (with an app), a “mind-body scan”, muscle relaxation, calming breathing exercises, moving meditations such as yoga or Tai Chi. These can help immensely with self-awareness, self-regulation and can enhancing your physical and psychological recovery.
Yours in reenergizing, reinvigorating and recovering from your stressors.