As much as we try to delay it or fight it, getting older is inevitable. Fortunately, we can make the process a lot smoother by staying active throughout the years. Physical activity is associated with stronger bones and muscles, better mobility, and a healthier heart. Of course, as we age, we might have to tweak our usual fitness routine or change it entirely. And, one element, in particular, that shouldn’t be overlooked is recovery time.
According to the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, research suggests that older muscles tend to recover more slowly after exercise. And, in a 2016 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, older triathletes experienced slower protein synthesis—the process in which the muscle cells regenerate—than younger athletes. So, it pays to take care of your body, and that includes proper recovery.
“Our bodies were made to move,” says Aaptiv Trainer Jess Ray. “As we age, it’s important to keep moving so [that] we stay mobile, flexible, and strong.” She notes that our approach to movement should evolve as we age. Fitness and overall wellness should be viewed as something we get to do versus something we have to do. This can promote longevity and keep us feeling good well into our golden years. Once you’ve got the movement part down, you just have to add recovery to the equation.
Recovery begins with the warm-up.
Repairing your muscles after working out is key, but you can really help yourself—during and after exercise—by preparing your body to move. Warming up not only lets you get the most from your workout, but it also helps you to avoid injury. Aim for dynamic movements—like walking, air squats, and arm circles—rather than static stretches, which should come later.
Cool down and stretch.
Once you’re done working out, it’s time to cool down. Rather than coming to a complete halt, keep moving at a slow and easy pace. If you were running, walk for a few minutes. If you were lifting weights, do a few yoga poses or other bodyweight moves. You want to bring your heart rate down without shocking your system.
Great, now you’re ready to stretch. After a workout, your muscles are more pliable, which means that you can benefit the most from stretching. Stretch your major muscle groups—especially anything you worked on during exercise—and hold each position for about 30 seconds. This will promote circulation in your muscles and lessen soreness the next day.
Take the occasional rest day.
Ray notes that, just as we schedule our workouts, we should also schedule our recovery time. “Taking rest days is a way to allow us to ensure that we can continuously do the workouts we love,” she says. “If we overdo it and don’t leave time to recover and rest, we risk injury.”
The exact amount of rest and recovery time required depends on your individual fitness levels and the type of exercise you’re doing. But, according to Dr. David W. Kruse, a sports medicine specialist at Hoag Orthopedic Institute, you may need more recovery time after age 50 because your muscle tissues take longer to heal. Listen to your body, and if you need an extra day off between workouts, take it.
A 2016 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise states that older triathletes experience slower protein synthesis than younger athletes.
Of course, rest days don’t have to mean sitting on the couch. A rest day could include a leisurely walk, a stretch, or even light exercise. For example, if you performed an upper body weight lifting session today, you can try something low-impact and leg-focused, like indoor cycling, tomorrow.
“Find a way to look forward to recovery days,” suggests Ray. “Pick something you enjoy doing that feels restful, so [that]you keep showing up. View these recovery days as an investment in long term fitness.”
Refuel with proper nutrition.
After working out, you need to refuel. Consuming 20-30 grams of protein within an hour of exercise can jumpstart muscle repair, but it’s important to get enough protein throughout the day. Try to spread it out between meals, so that your body can use it all day long. For years, general guidelines have suggested that adults get about .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. But a study published in the American Journal of Physiology says this might not be enough for older adults.
In the study, researchers noted that healthy adults aged 52-75 who ate 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight built and maintained more muscle than those who ate the usual .8 grams. That extra muscle can keep you moving well later in life and may even stave off sarcopenia—the natural loss of muscle tissue as you age.