When it comes to living an active lifestyle, emphasis is typically on the physical activity itself. Just as important, however, is what you do in your downtime after exercise. Recovery is an important part of any workout plan, and is much more than just the absence of planned physical activity.
Fueling properly for a workout is key to success, but what you eat afterwards can have just as much of an impact on performance. It is important to properly replenish nutrient stores in order to aid in muscle recovery and ensure you have enough energy for the rest of your day. Food is fuel, so make sure you are eating enough to support your level of activity.
The same goes for water and rehydration. During exercise, your body loses water through sweat, but the process of preventing dehydration starts way beforehand. Even on rest days, make sure you are consuming enough water to keep hydration and electrolyte levels high.
As you can see, a lot of the preparatory steps that you take on days that you workout should be continued even on days that you aren’t in the gym.
Another example of this is sleep. While important for everyone, sleep is essential for active individuals. After a hard workout, sleep is when the body releases growth hormones that aid in muscle repair. One might even say that sleep is the most important part of an exercise program!
In terms of amount, the number of hours you should aim for depends on your age.
For kids between the ages of 6-12, the recommended amount of sleep is 9-12 hours each night. For 12-18 year olds, 8-10 hours of sleep is needed. For those above the age of 18, 7-9 hours is recommended. However, studies show that only 28% of people meet these benchmarks.
Another aspect of recovery that leaves much to be desired is everyone’s favorite thing to procrastinate: stretching.
Everyone knows they should stretch, and everyone feels better once they do, so why don’t we all do it? Even 5-10 minutes of stretching can make a difference, but when it’s not considered part of a workout, it is easy to neglect. This aspect of recovery will actually enhance the quality of a workout by increasing blood flow, aiding in repair, and expanding range of motion.
Not to mention, there are plenty of ways to do it. Simple stretching on a mat is beneficial, but so is a massage, a quick yoga flow, a Theragun, and foam-rolling. If you find yourself neglecting this essential part of your workout routine, try switching it up a bit and seeing what works (and feels!) best for you.
The bottom line is that recovery is just as important to your health and fitness as exercise itself. When neglected, this leads to a higher chance of overtraining and an increased likelihood of injuries caused by stress and strain on muscles. Start scheduling recovery into your workout routine, and prioritize nutrition and hydration, even on days that you don’t exercise. Get your sleep, and remember to keep moving- both in and out of the gym.