By Katie Thomas
The Oxford Dictionary of Current English defines recovery as “the action of returning to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.” For anyone who exercises regularly, hard, or both, post-workout recovery is a step not to be skipped. It’s important to take time out of our busy lives to get back to that “normal state” — because the longer we live, the more likely we are to feel the consequences when we don’t.
Most sports medicine sources agree that how you should recover depends on the type of exercise you’ve done. For this gal, it’s mostly cardio, so that’s what I’m going to share. My top three crucial recovery steps after any cardio regimen are cooling down, stretching, and hydrating. As the American Heart Association puts it, “after physical activity, your heart is still beating faster than normal, your body temperature is higher and your blood vessels are dilated. This means if you stop too fast, you could pass out or feel sick. A cool-down after physical activity allows a gradual decrease at the end of the episode.” So the blood stops pumping and goes back to sauntering, as does the heart rate. Also, if you get tomato-face like me, that may also improve.
Stretching next is a wise choice, since the body is already warmed up, and doing so can increase flexibility and strength over time, as well as aid in injury prevention. And for some people it makes the difference between having sore muscles and joints the next day(s) or not. It’s a good idea to hold each stretch for 30 seconds if possible. I like to spend at least 15 minutes on my yoga mat, doing a wide variety of stretches that cover my whole body.
Finally, replenish those fluids! Sustained physical exertion, as well as heat exposure, will increase water losses and can raise daily fluid needs, according to the Institute of Medicine, and I have experienced this when enjoying any number of my regular activities, like running, dancing, and cross-country skiing. While products like Powerade and Gatorade are popular, they are also full of sugar. You can drink whatever you want, but I like to stick with good old-fashioned agua. Similarly to skipping a cool-down, skimping on rehydration can result in dizziness and fatigue, and slightly more freaky things if it goes too far. So just don’t risk it, and tote that reusable water bottle everywhere, m’kay?