There comes a point where getting out of bed after a tough HIIT workout or a late night out gets tougher and tougher. Though that’s a fact of life, there are ways we can minimize the wear and tear on your body from pushing yourself in the gym. To protect your body long term, you don’t necessarily have to stop doing what you love, whether it’s hitting up your favorite spin class or lifting weights. You just have to incorporate some important measures into your life to make sure you’re bounding out of bed every morning for years to come.
Read ahead for what doctors say you need to do to keep your body at its best in the future.
Rest, rest, rest
Sleep is not for the weak. One of the best ways avid exercisers can maintain their health in the long term is by getting adequate rest, Regina Druz, MD, FACC, Medical Director, Integrative Cardiology PLLC, says. “Rest days and restorative sleep [are key],” she says. “Not just quantity of sleep, but quality is key. Synchronization with day-night cycle to maintain circadian rhythm is [crucial]. Also identifying and preventing or reversing HPA axis dysfunction–at times referred [to as] adrenal fatigue–is important. Energy restoration, through focused nutritional effort and supplements is important.” She says fish oils, COQ10, Vitamin D and B, as well as antioxidants are great basic supplements to use.
Don’t overdo it
Some exercises get a bad rap for being more likely to lead to injury (we won’t mention them here), but often it’s not what you’re doing it’s how you’re doing it, experts say.
In addition to include stretching and rest periods as well as maintaining a good sleep schedule as previously mentioned, Druz says it’s important to listen to your own body. “It is not the type of exercise but its repetitive nature that often cause injury,” she says.
Druz notes that one of the biggest mistake regular exercisers make are pushing themselves too hard. “They focus on the burn and overextend themselves without realizing that oxidative stress may worsen beyond [an] acceptable threshold,” she says. “As inflammation and oxidative stress set in, the exercise becomes damaging. Thus a personalized program should help to avoid this by using nutrition, sleep and supplements to avoid oxidative stress and control inflammation while exercising.”
Switch it up
We all have our favorite workouts, but being open to different exercises can actually work to your benefit, Dr. David Geier, orthopedic surgeon in Charleston, South Carolina and author of That’s Gotta Hurt: The Injuries That Changed Sports Forever, says. “Not only should an avid exerciser take a day off every now and then, but cross-training with different forms of exercise is important as well,” Geier says. “By switching between several different types of exercise, you stress different parts of the body while allowing the primary part of the body to rest. For example, a runner could run four or five days a week and swim or lift weights the other days to give the legs, ankles and feet time to rest.”
In fact, you might want to adopt an athlete mentality and create an off-season for yourself. “Professional athletes have a period of one to three months off from their season each year,” Geier says. “While a runner or someone who likes to lift weights might not shut down completely for several months, he or she might consider participating in a different activity for those few months to allow the primary parts of the body to recover.” Who says you can’t be like Tom Brady?
You may be tempted to skip the end of class cool down, but that could turn out to be a major no-no, as stretching is an excellent way to keep your body in tip top shape. “It is also important to maintain flexibility, mobility and core strength, regardless of the primary sport or type of exercise,” Geier says. “Regular stretching and strengthening to improve these areas can prevent excessive stress on other parts of the body that lead to overuse injuries over time.”
If you feel something, say something
By knowing your body you can be in tune to when something is wrong and get to the doctor before it’s too late. “[A big mistake exercisers make is] they push through pain and let pain linger, or even increase, for too long before getting the injury checked out,” Geier says “Then they might even develop a more serious injury than if they had just taken simple steps to overcome the pain early in the course of the problem. Active individuals often assume that soreness or even pain is a good sign that they are pushing their bodies harder and getting stronger, but not all pain is good pain.”
According to Geier, there are no easy signs to tell if an injury is serious, but he offers a good rule of thumb for knowing when it’s time to make a doctor’s appointment. “I tell my patients that if they cannot do what they love to do as well as they want to do it, it’s a good idea to get the pain or injury checked out to see if it is potentially serious,” he says.