What’s “Mental Recovery” in Fitness?
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
LifeTime WeightLoss in Corey Grenz, Exercise, Stress, Stress and Sleep, exercise recovery, fitness recovery, mental recovery, performance and recovery, recovery practices

Recovery is a crucial component of fitness that often doesn’t get due attention. Recently, I’ve written about various aspects of physical recovery, including articles on stretching protocolsrecovery methods and Heart Rate Variability, a technological tool that can help us target our need for recovery on a given day. In addition to physical recovery, however, we can take advantage of mental recovery methods, “restorative” strategies that alleviate the mental stress that negatively impacts our bodies and can reduce the physical and mental resilience we bring to our fitness endeavors. Research demonstrates that psychological stress undermines physical recovery from exercise. Because the mind controls the muscles, an increase in mental stress can hamper our performance and heighten our risk for injury over time. Read on for different mental recovery strategies that can enhance your health and fitness.  

Prioritize quality sleep.

Not only does sleep aid the functions related to physical recovery, but it’s critical for maintaining mental resilience - a key component of motivation and focus in our fitness endeavors. Sleep also plays a pivotal role in hormonal secretion and balance, which means the better rested we are, the better our physical readiness for peak performance and optimum fitness efficiency.

Give yourself the chance to truly unplug.

These days we’re never without our devices, and the constant stimulation (e.g. that instinct to frequently “check in”) can leave us frazzled. Turn off your cell phone for as many hours a day as possible. Taking some screen-free time for yourself will help you unwind and focus on a pleasant activity or relaxation. You’ll come away more restored as a result.

Meditate for five minutes.  

As a fitness professional, it amazes me how many people struggle to meditate for one minute let alone five. There are many ways to practice meditation through posture and breathing. For our purposes here, let’s keep it as easy as possible. Sit up straight in a chair (imagining there’s a string attached to your head pulling you up), close your eyes, place your hands on your thighs, breath in and out normally and follow your breath as you clear your mind. If a thought comes into your head, release it out as you exhale. Start with one minute and gradually work up to five minutes at a time. Many elite athletes depend on this potent strategy for mental recovery. In addition to recovery for performance, however, meditation can enhance your overall health and quality of life.

Plan ahead and create long term as well as short term goals.

You might be wondering what goal planning has to do with stress reduction. A little self-monitoring, however, can go a long way. Goal planning and consistent monitoring can decrease stress because they give you a means to feel more control over your physical health and overall life. Take time to plan out a few key goals (e.g. what you consider most influential to your health and happiness) and the weekly/daily action steps required to meet them. Set a consistent time each week to review your ongoing efforts and progress. Beyond those weekly check-ins and “showing up” to complete the week’s set tasks, let go of the process. That means no worrying or obsessing - just doing the next assigned thing in front of you. Enlist a coach if that would be helpful. Most people won’t commit to this kind of effort (even as they waste time and anxiety over related issues), but the process can move your life forward in a powerful way.

Make a checklist.  

The idea here is to preserve as much mental bandwidth during the day as possible. The less you have to remember, the less stress-inducing obsessing your brain will do to keep the day’s ducks in a row. By making a to-do checklist in the evening, you’ll be able to go to bed without the “mental chatter” about the next day’s business and will likely sleep better as a result. Once you wake up, you can check things off the list as the day progresses without expending energy on constant mental rundowns. The checked physical list will also give you a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.

Go to work early.

Sometimes the best stress relief is stress prevention. Head off stress by allowing yourself to begin your day slowly rather than in a panic. When we feel like we run late and have to jump into the thick of things the second we walk into our workplaces, we’re immediately set up for stress. Try showing up 30-60 minutes early. Not only will you feel less rushed, but you’ll probably avoid traffic and be able to tackle the stressful, time consuming tasks with a fresh mind before actually starting the day. You’ll appreciate the better productivity and less pressure.

Give yourself time to eat.  

Good nutrition is key to health gains, but how we eat matters in addition to what we eat. It’s mind-boggling how many people have digestive issues these days. In addition to poor diets and compromised gut health, our digestive function can be influenced by the mad rush that too often characterizes mealtimes. Allow yourself adequate time and focus for eating. Instead of multitasking, give yourself 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted time to eat mindfully. Use the time to relax your mind and enjoy your food by chewing more slowly and focusing your attention. You’ll reap the benefits with better digestion and better stress recovery.  

Work in frequent walking and relaxation breaks.   

Go outdoors if you can, but even a quick walk in the office staircases or hallways can make a difference. Try to incorporate a therapeutic mental break for 5-10 minutes every 1-2 hours. Not only will you get some physical activity in by walking more steps, but you’ll give your brain a chance to reset from focused attention and the taxing fatigue it creates.

Have you tried any of the above ways to relax mentally?  What mental recovery strategies - from performance events or the day’s stress - do you depend on? Share what you’ve found to be effective.

Written by Corey Grenz, Personal Trainer

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

Article originally appeared on LifeTime WeightLoss (http://www.lifetime-weightloss.com/).
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