Recovery and training are like yin and yang. If you’re laying around too much, you won’t be making the necessary gains to reach your goals. If you’re training too much, you won’t give your body the downtime it needs to recover and adapt. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle.
It’s not uncommon for athletes to lean more towards the overtraining end of the spectrum, and one of the risks of overtraining is a weakened immune system. Signs of overtraining include, for example, feeling tired or heavy all the time, feeling irritable, or having regular illnesses.
This is why our mantra should be, “recovery is as important as training”. These seven tips and articles will help you stay in balance and care for your immune system.
Avoid tunnel vision
It’s important, and sometimes challenging, with training not to get so focused on our goals that we develop tunnel vision; so locked into our training schedule that we lose sight of the big picture, and all the little cues we might need to rest. It’s important to step back once and while, consult your loved ones or people you trust, and consider how you’re doing and what your body and mind need.
Suunto athlete Ryan Sandes knows all about this. He battled a long period of illness and eventually returned to top form after allowing himself to rest and recover fully. We talked to him about the experience and he shared tell tale signs when you need to back off.
Get more sleep
Working full time, it’s all too easy to burn the candle at both ends; early mornings, long working days, and late nights. It’s not uncommon to have a string of nights where we sleep for only six or seven hours. And on top of that we expect ourselves to train. It’s a lot!
Sleep doctor Henri Tuomilehto told us when we don’t get enough sleep our health will gradually deteriorate. He recommends trying to sleep an extra 30 to 60 minutes a night. “When times are tough you have to respect rest and recovery,” he says. “That is the only way you can stay balanced. Sleeping well is essential for this.”
Science has shown how breathing well has many health benefits. And crucially, one of those benefits is it helps to reduce stress. Chronic stress takes a terrible toll on the immune system. Over time it weakens it, making us more susceptible to illness.
Mike Maric, a former pro freediver, teaches athletes how to breathe better. He says many people have no idea about their own breathing patterns and often breath from the chest, rather than more deeply. “We need to breathe not with the chest, but with the diaphragm,” he explains. “But you need to practice regularly – the basics, about eight minutes each day.”
© Matti Bernitz / Suunto
A gentle yoga practice stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system – the rest and digest side of the nervous system – reducing the volume of stress hormones that weaken the immune system. It also feels amazing physically!
Suunto ambassador Emelie Forsberg practices yoga every morning because it helps her tune into her body. “It allows me to tune into how the muscles are feeling, where the tender spots are, what needs attention,” she says. “It gives me the sensitivity to be able to listen to the body.”
© Craig Kolesky / Red Bull Content Pool
Our food choices are indicative of how we’re doing as individuals. When we feel stressed and hectic, it’s often the case that we make poor food choices. Eating nutritious food is essential for good health and a strong immune system. And once in a while it’s great to really examine how you are eating, and put a lot of love and time into preparing amazing meals.
We talked to our ambassador and athletes about how they eat, and found six principles they all share, despite having different approaches to food. “As an athlete it’s very easy to slip into taking lots of recovery shakes to try to get the goodness back into your body,” ultra runner Ryan Sandes says. “But I don’t think you can replace eating good whole foods.”
Like with breathing and yoga, science has shown the many health benefits walking regularly gives us, including boosting immune function. Taking a leisurely stroll through a park is incredibly relaxing for body and mind. Relaxation is key for immune system health.
To build the walking habit, decide on a distance or amount of time that you can easily walk each day, and over time gradually increase it.
Find your ‘being mode’
One of the reasons for a weakened immune system is we are constantly in what the mindfulness tradition calls “doing mode”; trying to achieve, get things done, and problem solve. While this mode is natural to an extent, we also need to spend time in “being mode”; when we just enjoy being without any aims. Maybe for some of us that is reading a good book, listening to music, and for others lying around on the beach doing nothing.
Mindfulness can help us tune into our behavioural patterns so we can be more responsive and make better decisions that avoid overwhelm. “Listen to your body and really try to get a mind-body connection going because that’s the most important connection you can have,” says South African mindfulness coach and trail runner Meg MacKenzie. “Pushing through isn’t always the best option.”