The last three months or so, I’ve been reading about and doing a lot of “active recovery” activities. While reconditioning after my long bout with respiratory infections and adrenal fatigue, I realized I really needed to restart exercising without overdoing it and just making myself more tired. The two concepts I’ve found to be fruitful as I look into this are Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and Active Recovery .
I wanted to share some things I’ve found helpful. Maybe you will, too. Remember: I am not a doctor; talk to yours before you start. There are some conditions, such as Myalgic Encephalopathy or “ME,” sometimes called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, that can be made very much worse by trying to stage back in exercise. So please be careful.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) refers to the amount of time between your heartbeats. If your resting heart rate is 60 beats per minute, that doesn’t mean your heart beats exactly one time per second. The time between the first two beats may be 1.00002 second, then .99998 second, then 1 second, etc. The amount of difference the time between your heart beats is your HRV. There are actually a bunch of different measurements that go into an HRV number, but that’s the basic idea.
Generally speaking, the higher your HRV is, the healthier you are. There are apps and devices that let you measure this easily at home. I’ve found tracking at my HRV scores to be very helpful in showing me how my body is doing, including:
- What activities help me recover faster, and what activities wear me out
- What type of activity I should pursue on a given day: rest, gentle exercise, or vigorous exercise
- How to better tell how I’m doing from how I feel (it’s not always clear!)
I’ll go into more detail on these later.
Once I was able to get a handle on what I needed (rest/recovery/training), I needed to figure out activities for each of those needs. Rest is pretty easy – read soothing books and sleep a lot. The other two are harder, because they can overlap.
Enter “active recovery.” This is the idea that very gentle exercise can be more beneficial than straight rest in certain circumstances. I found a lot of work on active recovery coming from athletic trainers. They are generally working with healthy people who are trying to take their performance from “very good” to “exceptional,” so I take their specific training regimens with a huge grain of salt. But their guidelines have been working well. The super-short version is, when you do active recovery, you want to keep your heart rate between 50-70% of your maximum heart rate (or “Zone 1 and 2”). For me, that’s between 88 and 125 beats per minute. (HR zone info here.) For other kinds of training, you aim for higher zones. I use a heart rate tracker and app while I’m exercising so I can target the right zone. It’s actually pretty hard to stay in the recovery zone, because when I’m tired, sitting at my desk and going to meetings can put me in or above the recovery threshold! No wonder I was having trouble overdoing it…
The other piece of recovery training is that breathing is incredibly important. I’ve come to appreciate yogic breathing and meditation in a whole new way. Likewise, body alignment and energy flow activities have also been super helpful.
Tune in for tomorrow’s installment where I’ll go into agonizing detail about those. 🙂