We all wish that we could function at our physical and emotional best all of the time. Unfortunately, as many of us are well aware, our bodies have limitations that periodically result in diminished capacity and function. From general aches and pains, traumatic injuries, stress induced headaches, and general deconditioning due to lack of exercise and to largely sedentary jobs and lifestyles, we expect our bodies to operate and recover under some difficult circumstances. Our body’s ability to heal and recover is amazing. But at the same time, there are multiple factors within our control that can significantly impact the recovery process along the way. So whether you are currently recovering from an injury, training for your next marathon, or simply trying to improve your general health, here are some factors to consider.
- Diet/Nutrition– What we eat is ultimately the fuel that our bodies have to utilize to keep us going. In the same way that consistent care and maintenance helps machines to operate efficiently and avoid major system failures, our diets should emphasize well rounded nutrition and avoidance of excessive “junk”. This is especially true during recovery, as the body needs the building blocks and resources to continue to maintain general function in addition to doing ongoing repair work. Are you putting optimal fuel in your tank?
- Sleep– A primary indication of our body’s limitations is the onset of fatigue. Fatigue reminds us that even during our best times, we require dedicated time for the body to rest and recover. Lack of sleep can result in increased stress levels, diminished capacity and alertness, concentration deficits, and increased injury/disease risks. Sleep is vital both in a particular amount and degree of regularity. The National Sleep Foundation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both recommend 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults in order to maintain optimal function. More sleep is needed for teenagers and children.
- Hydration– Water intake plays a vital role in our body’s ability to self-regulate and maintain homeostasis. During recovery from an injury, appropriate hydration can help to reduce muscle soreness and improve body functions by helping to manage inflammation and cellular recovery. The Mayo Clinic recommends that everyone follow the general rule of drinking eight 8-oz servings of fluid each day. Keep in mind, however, that other factors such as climate and level of exercise intensity can create variations in this basic bodily need.
- Stress Management– Elevated stress levels result in higher adrenaline and cortisol levels in the body. Having too much of these hormones results in heightened fatigue, elevated blood pressure and sleep disturbances. High stress levels are also commonly associated with increased incidence of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Heightened stress challenges the body’s ability to pay attention to the recovery process and can result in increased inflammation, heightened pain sensitivity and longer healing times. Finding strategies to combat stress through lifestyle modifications, exercise, or emphasized diet and sleep improvements can all work together to optimize recovery and reduce general health risks.
- Activity- Our bodies function best when we get regular exercise and activity. Exercise has wide ranging and well-documented benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, reduced disease rates, increased mental acuity, and improved happiness and life satisfaction scores. Injuries can then be frustrating, because it can be difficult to maintain activity due to pain. Research has continually demonstrated that the outdated recommendation for complete rest following an injury is actually detrimental to recovery, and that maintaining appropriate activity throughout the recovery process results in the best outcomes. Activity may need to be modified during times of injury, but some form of movement is virtually always indicated to help the body to repair.
Are you unsure how to implement some of these health strategies? Or questioning how to find an appropriate activity balance in your well life or during recovery from injury or illness? Consult a Physical Therapist! We are movement experts trained to help clients to feel and function better.