We can’t discuss recovery protocols without touching on Heart Rate Variability (HRV) science. Exercise is predominantly a sympathetic (stress) response that we place on various systems of the body, which influence cardiovascular health and performance. The space in between our heartbeats is the study of HRV. HRV science is a wonderful tool to see how well we are recovering from exercise. Balancing the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic vs. parasympathetic) is a key element to improving HRV, which we’ll expand upon in our Active Recovery section (Kawachi, 1997).
1. Active Recovery
Life is basically an endurance sport with intervals of speed. With American stress levels at an all-time high, being skillful in how we deliver exercise is an essential element to improving health and well-being. The cooling down period could be just as important, or even more important, than the heating up periods for long-term success. Most of our clients are stressed out and exhausted before they see us; so, how can we provide a meaningful workout without adding more stress to the body/mind?
Mindful breathing with nasal dominance during exercise is a great way to keep heart rates down and balance autonomic nervous system (ANS) all the while creating a detoxifying experience from the organs of the GI track and minimizing muscle and joint damage. Mindful breathing is the practice of nasal breath regulation playing close attention to the length, depth and pace of the inhale and exhale. Incorporating this into fitness and athletic training is the platform for “active” recovery.
In respiratory physiology, we understand that the inhale activates a sympathetic response (heat, cortisol, physical energy) and the exhale creates a parasympathetic (cooling, serotonin, mental awareness) response. Diaphragmatically, slowing the pace of our inhale, not only stimulates energy production from our gastrointestinal organs, but also provides an opportunity for balancing a sympathetic and parasympathetic hormone release of our “flow” neurochemicals. Breathing diaphragmatically and lengthening our nasal exhale activates a recovery period on the exhale. The longer the exhale, the greater the opportunity for recovery because the exhale is all parasympathetic (Elliott, 2010).
Diaphragmatically breathing through our nose, not only engages the diaphragm muscle but also activates the 10th cranial nerve: the vagus nerve, which is only activated by nasal breathing. Vagus means wandering; the vagus nerve “wanders” down through the diaphragm with 10 strands that interact and communicate with all of our gastrointestinal organs except the adrenal glands. Stimulation of the vagus nerve plays a large role in HRV and parasympathetic activity (Kawachi, 1997).
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