Last week we discussed exercise and how it does not always equal fitness. In that post we briefly touched upon how recovery is a necessary component of fitness. Recovery is what prepares our body’s ability to receive and respond to stress. Exercise is a form of physical stress and as such proper recovery prepares us to effectively respond to it. In this week’s blog post we are going to take a deep look into the things that effect our body’s ability to properly recover. Recovery is the restoration of the body back to a healthy state following stress. Stress, both physical and mental, is ever present and is constantly impacting us. Stress can come in the form of both good and bad stress; increased physical or mental strain on our body including injuries, movement, posture, life events, lifestyle choices (smoking, drinking, drugs, diet, etc.), illness, and exercise among many others. The more of these stresses that we introduce to our body, the greater our need for recovery and the harder it is for our body to fully recover.
Recovery entails several factors that we must be aware of to allow our body the opportunity to properly recover from these everyday stresses. Some of the most important of these factors include:
- Bodywork – Chiropractic, Massage, etc.
- Stress management
In looking at the priority of these factors to recovery, there is not necessarily one factor that is more important than another, however we will break them down by importance to maintaining life and survival. The first factor on this list that we cannot live long without would be breathing, followed by sleep, hydration, nutrition and finally stress management and bodywork.
Breathing is vital to life and our ability to properly recover as it is our primary source of oxygen, which is crucial to our body’s ability to energy production. Without oxygen, we are not able to produce energy for a long period of time and without energy to run our body, death occurs. Research states that the longest we can survive without air is approximately 5 minutes after which we will become brain dead. We often do not think about our quality of breathing, as fortunately we do not have to consciously breath, as our brain controls our respiration or breathing without us having to think about it. However, as a result of lifestyle choices (smoking, etc.), respiratory illness, poor posture (restricts ability of our rib cage to move to allow our lungs to fill with air), lack of exercise and other factors we can start to negatively impact our ability to properly breathe. Poor breathing results in a reduction of available oxygen to our body and reduces our energy production, while at the same time reduces the ability of our body to eliminate waste products, primarily carbon dioxide (a byproduct of metabolism) which causes more stress on our body and reduces our body’s ability to properly rest and ultimately recover. Therefore, breathing and improving your ability to breathe is very important to your body’s ability to a healthy recovery.
Hydration is another vital component to life and proper recovery. Our body is primarily water, on average about 65% of our body is water. Every cell, tissue and organ in your body needs water to work properly. For example, water:
- Gets rid of wastes through urination, perspiration and bowel movements
- Is important to blood volume, which carries oxygen to our body and waste away from it
- Keeps your temperature normal
- Lubricates and cushions joints
- Protects our organs
Lack of water can lead to dehydration — a condition that occurs when you don’t have enough water in your body to carry out normal functions. Even mild dehydration can drain your energy and make you tired. Therefore, we need to maintain proper hydration of our body. Most hydration sources will tell us that we need to consume 64 ounces (8 cups) of water per day. However, though this is a great starting point to proper hydration, many of us may require even more than 64 ounces per day. When considering our water intake for the day, we need to take into account our activity levels. Highly active individuals will require more water as we lose water through breathing and sweating; in addition, diuretics including caffeine (coffee, soda, energy drinks, etc.) and alcohol have dehydrating effects increasing the volume of water beyond our typical daily intake to counteract these effects. Weather also plays a role in how much water our body requires, we sweat more in hot and humid weather, therefore our water needs go up during these climates. Illness is another factor as our body loses more water as a result of a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea, as a result of easily becoming dehydrated during these times water intake is a must. When we do not drink adequate amounts of water, we become dehydrated. Dehydration has consequences on our recovery, including:
- It diminishes the body’s ability to rebuild muscle following exercise or activity
- It results in a decrease of the body’s ability to breakdown and absorb nutrients from food
- It significantly increases fatigue, as a result of decrease blood volume, which causes our heart to have to work harder to supply blood to our body (increase fatigue also results in decrease motivation)
- Reduces the heart’s ability to recover from exercise, which can negatively effect your heart rate variability (HRV), which is a strong measure of how well your body can adapt to stress and can be a measure of potential future health problems
Perhaps the hottest topic of recovery right now is sleep and rightfully so, as it is extremely important to our body’s ability to recover and so many of us are victims of poor sleep and sleep deprivation. There are four stages to our sleep cycle: stage 1 and stage 2 are known as our light sleep cycles, stage 3 is our deep sleep cycle and stage 4, also known as REM is best described as a combination of the 2 it is during this stage of our sleep where vivid dreams occur. All stages of sleep have their importance to allowing our body to rest and recover. In order for our body to reach deep sleep, we must have the ability to get our body to that point through health light sleep cycles. During light sleep (stage 1 and stage 2) our body does things to prepare its ability to have healthy deep sleep, such as a reduction in our brain activity, relaxation of our muscles, and a slowed breathing and heart rate. During deep sleep (stage 3) our breathing rate, heart rate and brain activity further decreases, and our muscles become further relaxed. It is during this phase of sleep that a number of hormones are released in our body, including growth hormone, which is critical to our body’s restorative ability, allowing for bodily recovery, growth and repair; it also plays a crucial role to the health of our immune system. This phase of sleep along with REM (stage 4) is very important to memory, learning and creativity. For adults, a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night is recommended. However, sleep needs should be determined on an individual basis and many factors including our daily activities and physical strain over the course of a day need to be considered in determining the amount of sleep for proper recovery. There are many factors that can disrupt our ability to have quality sleep and rest, some of these factors include:
- Irregular sleep patterns: going to sleep and waking up at similar times of the day are very important to our body’s ability to a proper circadian rhythm (a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep–wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours)
- Alcohol: alcohol reduces our brains ability to achieve stage 3 (deep sleep) and stage 4 (REM), which as explained above is critical to our body’s restorative ability
- Caffeine: caffeine is a stimulant and as such reduces your body’s ability to rest
- Sleep disorders: sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, etc.
- Physical pain
- Stress/Anxiety: releases hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) which reduce your body’s ability to relax.
- Light prior to bed reduces your body’s ability to produce melatonin, which is necessary for quality sleep.
As we can see there are several factors that can disrupt the quality of our sleep and reduce our body’s ability to properly recover. Trying reducing alcohol and caffeine intake within 3-4 hours of sleep along with reducing our light exposure (wearing blue light glasses or putting our technology devices away) 30 minutes prior to bedtime can be 2 things that we can easily control in improving our sleep quality. Trying to get on a regular sleep schedule going to bed and waking at the same time everyday can also significantly improve the quality of our sleep.
How we fuel our body through proper nutrition is also vital to our recovery. A healthy nutritional plan provides our body with the necessary fuel to produce hormones and building blocks that are essential to helping our body heal and recover. Everyday our body is breaking down as a result of our daily lives, nutrition is one of the most important factors in helping us to rebuild what is broken down, along with the factors that we have previously discussed. We have covered a good amount of nutritional advice in our previous posts and as such I will not go into a significant amount of detail here, just understand that feeding our body good wholesome, non-processed, real food in variety is extremely important to our recovery through proper nutrient intake. Carbohydrates and fat are our primary sources of energy and protein is our source for helping our body to rebuild. Supplementation through nutritional supplements can also be very important to our recovery, which we will cover in more detail in future posts. Discover more on how a good nutritional plan can help you on your way to recovery by taking the opportunity to schedule for our First Steps Nutritional Coaching Strategy Session, 30 minutes of your time is all that is necessary to the possibility of feeling your best!
Bodywork is obviously a topic that we are very passionate about here at ChiroFitt. Chiropractic and Massage are two of the primary services that we offer in addition to Functional Fitness Training and Nutritional Coaching. Chiropractic treatment has been clinically proven to be a very effective form of conservative physical and mechanical therapy for rehabilitation of neuromusculoskeletal injuries as well as a method to assist you in maintaining proper function of your nervous, muscular, and skeletal system, which are all extremely important to our body’s ability to adapt and tolerate stress along with our ability to recover from stress. Chiropractic treatment is most commonly associated with spinal care. However, chiropractic also focuses on restoration and maintenance of mobility and function of the body’s soft tissues including muscle, tendon, ligament, discs, and joints. Massage is utilized to assist in relaxation and recovery of your body’s soft tissues including muscle, fascia, and tendons along with helping to improve circulation of your blood and lymph. Massage has been researched to also have profound effects on decreasing stress and anxiety as a relaxation technique. These forms of bodywork and care provide a great addition to maintaining and improving health and well-being.
The final factor that we will discuss today related to recovery is stress management. This may be the most difficult factor for us to control as we are constantly bombarded by stressors throughout our life. Some stressors in our life are positive stress, also known as eustress, these include learning a new skill or a workout. We also have many things that can cause negative stress, also known as distress in our lives. This is the most common form of stress we typically think about. One of the best ways to prepare our body to deal with stress is to be proactive about all the topics that we previously discussed today. Proper recovery allows us to be better able to adapt to and manage stress. Fueling our body properly through breathing, hydration and nutrition has profound effects on our body’s ability to adapt to and accept stress. Proper sleep and rest and keeping our energy levels up as a result of it, certainly helps our body to receive and adapt to stress. As discussed above, bodywork is a great form of relaxation to help our body manage our stress levels. Understanding that we cannot eliminate stress, but that we can find better ways to manage it is extremely important to our recovery and well-being. Stress as discussed impacts so many of our recovery factors. When we are stressed, our breathing patterns are disrupted; we often tend to under or over eat relative to stress; our sleep cycles become disrupted and so on.
Other things to consider when dealing with stress are to take opportunities when available and spend time on things that you enjoy, if possible, which could include reading, writing, spending time with loved ones, weight training, running, cycling, going for a walk, being outdoors, amongst many other things to give your brain and body an opportunity to focus on something other than you stressors. Breathing exercises and meditation can be great ways to help your mental being. I do not believe there is a one size fits all approach to stress management as we all have different stressors and are all a little different in how we process our stress, but trying to not let it control our lives and findings ways to deal with it in a healthy manner is important to our well-being and recovery.
As we can see, there are a number of factors that are necessary to our ability to recover. Recovery is extremely important to our mental and physical ability to receive and accept stress throughout our day. Poor recovery could be the biggest factor in our body’s ability to recover from illness or injury. It could also limit our ability to accept and properly respond to positive stressors such as fitness training reducing the overall benefits of such activities. These factors our often overlooked or not discussed in our current medical system, which has profound impacts on truly allowing our body to heal or recover from illness or injury. In many cases, the methods that we often utilize to address many of our current day health concerns often displace more stress onto our body, which is already suffering. This is not to say that these treatment options are not necessary nor is it saying that they cannot be effective in treating and managing these concerns. I believe that we have a great opportunity to improve the effectiveness of our current treatment methods along with helping people to live healthier lives if we start looking further into these factors and how we can help others with them. When trying to improve your recovery, begin by taking small steps and focus on one thing at a time. Make a list and think about what the easiest thing for you may be to change and begin there. Once you feel you have made that new change a habit, then continue to the next thing on your list. If you are someone who would benefit from an accountability partner or just need help through the process of habit building and help simplify the process, allow us to be a part of your journey. Give us a call and setup a short (30 minute) no-obligation time through our First Step Nutritional Coaching Strategy Session or our No Stress Fitness Strategy Session where we will discuss these factors with you as we know their importance to your recovery and well-being. Small steps lead to big change over time!
Until next time…