Don’t forget your recovery

Have you gotten sick lately? Are you still making progress with your fitness routine? Both of these problems can be affected by one thing: not getting the proper amount of rest. Rest is perhaps the most overlooked aspect of any health and fitness program. Most people are content to get about six hours of sleep each night and then wonder why they are always getting colds or never getting better in their exercises. After you read this column, you will have a much greater understanding of the role that rest plays in your health and be able to make some immediate changes.

It seems like common sense to most of us: Work hard all day and rest all night. Unfortunately, we do not follow this advice. Thanks to the vast array of television shows, nightclubs with great music and late-night diners, many of us do not get anywhere near the recommended eight hours of sleep per night. While this doesn’t matter if it’s only every now and then, if it’s chronic, it can cause problems. When we sleep, our bodies are able to heal and recover from the stresses we put them through. Naturally, if we are not allowing adequate recovery time, things will begin to break down.

Lately there have been a lot of colds going around. While getting a cold may not result directly from a lack of sleep, it definitely plays a role. When you don’t allow your body to recover fully, your immune system is one of the first areas affected. It becomes weaker and has trouble fighting off germs. This can easily lead to catching a cold or getting the flu.

I was reminded of this last weekend. I felt a little funny in the beginning of the day and by mid-afternoon I had a mild fever. I was not extremely sick, but I felt miserable. Over the previous week I had not been getting enough sleep and it caught up to me. I normally have a very good immune system, but it could not fight this bug off. So how do you fight off a cold after you get it? The same way you try to prevent it: Get plenty of rest. I must have slept 12 hours that night. When I woke up, I felt fine.

It’s easy to see how rest plays a role in our immune system, but many people ignore it when it comes to exercise. This is unfortunate, because getting the proper amount of rest can be the difference between becoming frustrated from a lack of results and continuing to reach new goals. It doesn’t matter if you are doing primarily aerobic exercise or strength training; rest and recovery should receive lots of attention. Whenever we exercise, we are placing a great amount of stress on various systems within our bodies. This stress causes adaptations to occur that make us stronger, faster or more efficient. However, these changes don’t occur while we are exercising; they happen while we recover. In other words, you will not get stronger at the gym. You get stronger by working hard at the gym and then going home and getting a proper amount of sleep.

The main problem most people face related to rest and exercise is overtraining. This is simply when you exercise too much and do not allow the body to recover between training sessions. Symptoms of this include general fatigue, lack of motivation, decreased performance and elevated resting heart rate. Overtraining is commonly thought of as a “plateau,” and many people train more to try and break out of it. This will ultimately lead to decreased performance and destruction of muscle mass. If you think you have been overtraining, there are two ways to solve the problem: Get more rest or cut back on your training.

Allowing your body to recover fully is vitally important. It allows you to stay in your best health and reach your training potential. While it’s easy to let ourselves stay up too late, we should try to build in more “down time.” This can be a short nap, a 15-minute break for meditation or just going to bed 30 minutes earlier. If you are not getting enough rest, try some of these for a week. I bet you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.


Jared Carter, CSCS, is the owner of Move Forward Fitness Personal Training Studio, 1616 Walnut St. Visit www.moveforwardfitness.com or reach him at (215) 399-3541.