If you’ve ever researched the optimal fitness routine for any age group, you will have seen that rest days are invariably included to give your body time to recover. That is because workout recovery needs change as we age.
Recovery time is essential no matter how old you are because it reduces the risk of injury and gives the body time to repair the microscopic tears in your muscle fibers (thus helping to build muscle) while removing the waste products produced when you exercise.
However, what you may not already know is that as you get older, your recovery needs change. Read on to find out whether you need a longer recovery period at your age and why.
Muscle Recovery: What Is It?
If you’re new to the world of fitness and strength training, you might not be familiar with the term ‘’muscle recovery.’
When people talk about recovery in the context of working out, they’re talking about the time it takes for your muscles to stop feeling fatigued and sore.
After you finish working out, your body is actually still working. Strength training depletes glycogen (energy) stores and damages the proteins in your muscles.
The word ‘damage’ sounds a little scary but, with enough time to recover, the proteins repair themselves and build more muscle in the process.
As your body works overtime to repair and replenish itself, you’ll probably experience delayed-onset muscle soreness.
Ever gone to bed feeling fine after leg day only to wake up the next morning in a world of pain? That’s DOMS.
You’ll probably also feel more tired than usual due to the glycogen depletion we mentioned earlier.
In order for these adverse effects to go away, leaving you free to continue your workout routine pain-free, you’ll need to give your body time to recover, and that’s what we mean when we talk about muscle recovery.
Do Older People Need Longer Recovery Periods?
You may have heard that you will need more recovery time after working out as you get older. But is that true?
The bottom line is yes, you will need to give your body more extended periods of recovery the olde you get. Wondering why that is? We’re about to cover that in our next section, so stay tuned!
Why Do Recovery Needs Change with Age?
There are many reasons why your recovery needs (see also ‘Why You Need Rest And Recovery After Exercise’) are likely to increase as you get older. Here are the 4 main reasons:
1. More Fragile Connective Tissues
As you get older, the connective tissues in your body (think artery tissue, joint tissue, blood vessels and tendons) lose their elastin and collagen content.
Elastin and collagen are both proteins, so when they begin to degrade, your vascular system can’t function as it once did.
The thing that specifically makes it more difficult for your muscles to recover quickly as you age is the weakening of your tendons.
Because your tendons attach your bones to your muscles, when their structure is altered, your muscles will be tighter after a workout, which leads to soreness.
2. Reduced Muscle Fibers
Nor only do your connective tissues get weaker with age, but the size of your muscle fibers also decreases.
When your muscle fibers get smaller, they can’t cope with the same intensity as they used to when it comes to strength training.
What this means is that if you keep trying to work out at the same level as you did in your 20s when you’re in your 40s, you’ll probably end up putting too much strain on your muscles, leading to a longer recovery period.
3. Delayed Onset Inflammatory Response
The older you get, the more delayed the inflammatory response in your body after a workout tends to be.
This is because the immune system naturally gets weaker with age, so the inflammation that signals the body to send white blood cells to your muscles for repair doesn’t happen until a while after you work out.
Logically, the sooner your inflammatory response happens after a workout, the sooner it will be over and the sooner you’ll be ready to work out again.
However, since this response gets delayed with age, the muscles often don’t feel back to normal for a couple of days.
4. Weakened Neuromuscular Connections
As you age, the neuromuscular system in your body (the system that connects your brain to your muscles) gets weaker.
Essentially, you are left with fewer neuromuscular connections.
This means you will probably need to work harder to achieve the same results, but as we mentioned earlier, doing so will lead to more soreness and a longer recovery time (see also ‘Top Exercise Recovery Tips For Over 50s‘) due to changes in your connective tissues and muscle fibers.
How To Improve Muscle Recovery With Age
If you’ve read this far and are feeling discouraged about the idea of having to take more time out between workouts, don’t worry!
Workout Recovery After 40 – Exercise Recovery After 50 – ESSENTIALS
There are plenty of steps you can take to boost your muscle recovery even as you age, including:
1. Prioritize Hydration
You’ve probably heard this hundreds of times before, but one of the best things you can do for your body in general is to make sure it’s well-hydrated.
Hydration also specifically helps your muscles to recover faster because it makes sure that your blood remains at the correct volume, helps your body break food down into energy, and regulates the temperature of your body.
2. Eat Well
A high-protein diet will speed up your muscle recovery time and also boost your metabolism.
You should also be eating enough carbohydrates to ensure that your glycogen stores are always optimal.
It’s often a good idea to increase your protein consumption as you get older if you want to maintain your fitness routine.
However, please speak to your primary care provider before changing your diet.
3. Remember To Stretch
Stretching is often presented as a way to completely prevent soreness after a workout.
While stretching will not always eliminate post-workout pain, it will definitely help your muscles to stay more flexible and not get so tight.
This will make it easier for you to remain active even if you are a little sore because your muscles won’t be as stiff.
So, try to stretch before and after each workout if you want to minimize the amount of time your body needs to recover.
4. Get Plenty Of Sleep
When your body is allowed to rest properly through good-quality, deep sleep, hormones are released that promote growth and repair in your muscles.
If you don’t get enough deep sleep, your hormones will be dysregulated and your cortisol (stress hormone) will increase.
Excess cortisol stops your body from recovering efficiently, so you need to prioritize sleep even more as you get older to counteract the changes in your body.
As you get older, your body will naturally be less efficient at recovering after a workout due to changes in your connective tissues, muscle fibers, immune system, and neuromuscular connections.
This often means that you will feel sore and tired for longer after working out.
However, by eating a high-protein diet with enough carbohydrates, hydrating yourself, prioritizing quality sleep and remembering to stretch before and after working out, you can help to boost your muscle recovery speed and combat the effects of aging on recovery, starting today!