Exercise is a stressor. Usually a good one. But a stressor nonetheless. If you exercise intensely and/or often, you add stress to a body that may already be stressed from other life stuff like work, relationships, travel, late nights, etc.
This isn’t a bad thing. Exercise can indeed help relieve stress. But in terms of a physical demand, we still need to help our bodies recover from all the stress we experience.
How well you’ll recover (and how much extra recovery you might need) depends on your allostatic load — i.e. how much total stress you’re under at any given moment. In other words, on those days when you were late for work and your boss yelled at you and you spilled ketchup on your favorite shirt and you were up all night caring for a sick child — and then you went to the gym and tried to nail a PR? You better plan for some serious recovery time. On the other hand, if you slept well, woke up to sunshine, had a terrific breakfast, and strutted into that workout feeling like a rockstar, your body will likely recover faster and better from your workout.
The right amount of exercise, at the right intensity, and the right time: We train. We learn. We get healthier and stronger.
Too much exercise, with too high an intensity, too often: We strain. We stress. We shut down. And break down.
If you don’t build recovery into your plan, your body will eventually force it. Your body can actually handle a tremendous amount of work… if you recover properly and fully from that work. Your stress-recovery pattern should look like rolling hills: For every up (training or life stress) there’s a down (recovery).
Some action items:
Take a self-assessment. How is your body feeling?
Trust your body - and listen to it. How do you feel when you are well rested? What signs tell you that you need a break?
Make time for recovery. Go for a walk, meditate, do yoga, go for a swim, chill out in the park, get a massage, etc.
Mix up your routine. Don’t do the same workouts all the time. Find some new ways to get active without being in the gym. Play!
Have fun! Play a sport you love, try something new, actively play with your kids or grandkids, give your pet some extra attention, etc.