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Finding Balance with an Exercise Routine: How to Boost Your Recovery

by Sheila Olson

It's very easy to get caught up in work, family, chores, and other problems and forget to take time out specifically to relax. However if you're undertaking an exercise routine, relaxation is even more important. Exercise is a form of stress that activates the sympathetic "fight or flight" nervous system. This state gets the body ready for action and is crucial to a good workout. However, to recover from exercise, the body needs to enter the parasympathetic "rest and digest" nervous system. Here are a few ways you can help it do that.

Minimize Stress

Exercise is a great stress reducer, but you should also take extra steps to keep your stress level as low as possible. Stress reduction techniques fall into two categories. The first is problem-focused coping. Think about sources of stress in your life and how you might be able to reduce them. For example, if you are stressed about an exam, you could create a study schedule, or if your workload is too high, you could speak to your manager.

The second category is emotion-focused coping -- techniques that reduce stress in the moment -- and this strategy is useful for stresses that you can't avoid. A great technique is meditation; you could set up a peaceful area in your home to use as a meditation space and practice every day for 15 minutes or whenever you need it. You could also learn muscle relaxation exercises or challenge your negative thoughts. Unstress Yourself has more examples of emotion-focused stress reduction techniques.


Find Relaxing Hobbies

The best way to ensure you take time to relax is to find a relaxing hobby that you like. That way, you won't need to schedule time in -- you'll naturally end up taking a little time out because you enjoy it. For example, you could try knitting, drawing, coloring books, learning a musical instrument, or maintaining an aquarium. Gardening is also a great choice because not only is nature relaxing, but it's also a light, gentle workout that counts as active recovery and helps your body recuperate after exercise. Other good options for active recovery include yoga, walking, and light stretching.

Get Quality sleep

Sleep is crucial to exercise recovery, stress reduction, and overall health, so make sure you get seven to nine hours of high-quality sleep every night. The American Sleep Association has some great tips for sleeping better. Firstly, avoid caffeine after noon, try to exercise before 2 p.m., and minimize tobacco, alcohol, and other substances that interfere with sleep. Get a comfortable mattress and pillows, keep your bedroom dark and quiet -- use an eye mask and play white noise if necessary. If you lie in bed for more than 10 minutes, get out of bed and sit in a chair in a dark room. Let your mind race here, and when you are tired, try sleeping in the bed again.

Eat for Recovery

Exercise increases your nutritional demands in terms of quality, quantity, and timing. Overall, you'll recover more quickly if you eat a diet rich in vegetables, whole foods, nuts, and fruits, but you should also pay attention to your post-workout nutrition. After a workout, there is a two-hour window where the muscles soak up protein and other nutrients that trigger the repair of muscle tissue. If you exercise for 45 minutes or more -- whether that's weights or endurance training -- drink a protein shake immediately afterward. The shake should have around a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein, unless you are trying to lose weight, in which case just include protein. Then have a low-fat, whole food meal with plenty of protein and vegetables within two hours. For short or low-intensity workouts, you can skip the shake.

Researchers have identified a long list of benefits from physical exercise, but that doesn't mean you can just go to the gym for an hour and forget about your health for the rest of the day. You'll get more out of exercise in terms of both health, performance, and body shape if you take steps to boost your recovery. Which technique will you start working on today?

To read more from Sheila, visit her website at fitsheila.com
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