I do not consider myself to be a pro athlete by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, at an appointment with a rheumatologist a few days after I returned from my Toubkal adventure, I laughed out loud as she pointed out that a problem I had with the bursa in my knee was ‘common in athletes’. I felt like I had passed some sacred right of passage!
Athletes need to understand the importance of exercise training for optimal performance and improvement. However, rest and recovery is also an important aspect allowing the body time to repair and strengthen itself in between workouts, both physical and psychological recovery.
So, what actually happens during the recovery period? Given that the body is ‘resting’, you might imagine that very little actually happens. But that’s where you’re wrong; with rest and recovery the body is allowed to adapt to the stress associated with exercise, replenishes muscle glycogen (energy stores) and is given time for body tissue to repair.
Sleep is another important aspect of rest and recovery when it comes to performance, and a subject that, as a qualified sleep counsellor I am incredibly interested in. Athletes who are sleep deprived are at risk of losing aerobic endurance and may experience subtle changes in hormone levels, which can lead to higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) as well as a decrease in human growth hormone, which is active during tissue repair.
Feeling fatigued is often a sign that something isn’t quite right… something I feel I am unfortunately quite experienced with. Before my brain tumour diagnosis, fatigue was one of the very telling signs that something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it, I couldn’t explain it to anyone, but my body was quite literally putting the brakes on until I couldn’t ignore it any longer.
A couple of weeks back I had that feeling once again. Keeping my heart rate in low zones was becoming impossible. I felt utterly flat. Even easy sessions were more of a battle than normal and I knew something wasn’t quite right. I forced myself out one more time, knowing the following day was a rest day.
On my rest day, I rested. The following day, I still felt exhausted so I gave myself an additional rest day, planning to swap it with a rest day later in the week. I spent the day on the sofa, too tired to move. I knew I was coming down with something and from experience I’ve learnt that ignoring this and pushing through just leaves you feeling even worse and taking longer to recover.
On the third day I felt awful. I developed a dry, sore throat and cough. My head ached. In fact, my whole body ached. The following morning, I felt like I’d run a marathon with pain in my ankles and knees. My neck was also sore. I slept on and off throughout the day. The following day, I tested positive for Covid.
As I write this, I’m about 10 days into this thing, and today is the first day I actually feel a little better. I still have a headache, a bit of a cough, fatigue and loss of appetite (and half a kilo!). I’ve totally lost my sense of taste and smell, but my thoughts are returning to training goals.
The last couple of years have been a really steep learning curve as far as understanding my body goes. Throughout this illness, though, I’ve felt far less frustrated than I have in the past, as I now understand far more about the recovery process, what’s involved and just how important rest is.
I’m sharing with you a few tips that I hope will help you, particularly in light of the current pandemic.
Building rest into your routine
When you are self-isolating with coronavirus symptoms, it might be that you actually feel well enough to work from home. In this case, it is essential that you take the time to build rest and recovery into your daily routine.
As I have discovered since my surgery, working hard without taking adequate breaks (even when we don’t feel we need to take a break) can be a major cause of fatigue and stress. Too much screen time and time spent sitting down isn’t good for our overall health.
To ensure you are getting enough rest, check out the following tips:
- Schedule your main breaks during the day in your diary
- Plan time to eat, whether you’re hungry or not. Our bodies need fuel both for work and recovery, so if you don’t fancy a meal, have frequent small, healthy snacks, sliced fruit and vegetables for example. Also, make sure you are well hydrated.
- Plan your work in short bursts of around 30 minutes followed by a short break, rather than long sessions of an hour or more
- At the end of every meeting or task, take a break to refresh and refocus
- Know when the most productive time of the day is for you, and use it to your advantage
Even if you are not working it is still important to make sure that you get enough rest. Find a happy medium between social time, when you are keeping in touch with people and finding activities to pass the time, and giving yourself plenty of downtime to rest and relax.
The importance of sleep
Sleep is a huge factor on the body’s ability to rest and recover and a vital part of our daily routine.
During sleep the body appears rested and relaxed, but there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes that doesn’t happen whilst we are awake. Sleep processes are far too complex to write about in a single blog post, but believe me when I say they are vital. Whilst it will vary between individuals, the recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7-9 hours a night.
During periods of illness, getting enough time to rest and repair is essential for making a speedy recovery.
Try following these tips to help you relax and get a good night’s sleep:
- Stop using electronic devices an hour before bed – yes, put the phone down!
- Write down any stresses or worries a couple of hours before bed, to reduce worrying at night
- Try meditation and take time to think about positive moments in your day
- Have a warm, decaffeinated drink such as chamomile tea
- Have a long warm bath to prepare for bed
- Listen to calming music to unwind
- Gradually decrease bright lighting, moving from the main light to gentle lamps
- Learn some breathing techniques to relax your body and mind
Sleep and coronavirus
The majority of people who get COVID-19 will have mild or moderate symptoms. There is no treatment for coronavirus, only self-care at home to help you manage the symptoms.
Listen to your body. Getting enough sleep, resting throughout the day when you feel tired and continuing to eat a healthy diet will all help make sure your body – and mind – are in the best possible shape to fight the virus.
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