Exercise affects your hormones, and adequate recovery keeps your hormone profile in balance so that your adrenals don't get fried and take your sex hormones and thyroid down with them. It's about galvanizing the full arsenal of repair mechanisms in your body: stitching together microtears in your muscles, ironing out the fascia when it gets jangled, reinvigorating mitochondria so you're brimming with energy rather than feeling worn down or burned out. The official definition of recovery is your ability to repair tissues damaged during exercise, rebuild muscles, provide functional restoration of the body such that you prevent injury, rejuvenate emotionally and psychologically, and feel prepared to meet or exceed performance the next time.
Previously, I'd chronically limit my recovery, and I wonder if the same is true for you. If you exercise five days per week, then at its simplest, recovery means 24 hours between bouts of exercise and two rest days. If you exercise four days per week, you take three rest days. For me, my weekends are my harder exercise days, and Mondays and Fridays are my rest days.
Recovery allows you to heal from oxidative stress, which you may or may not feel as fatigue and muscle soreness. But recovery runs deeper; in a larger sense, it's about paying attention to the messages of your cells, your inner voice, and not letting ego run the show. My ego tells me to overexercise and under-recover, which is a recipe for injury, spasm, and weak mitochondria. Don't let that happen to you. Recovery is also about tuning into the messages your body is sending you—the ache in your left sacroiliac joint or the twinge in your right knee. Ironically, I taught myself to ignore those signals during medical residency when self-care came last, but I've been learning to hear and feel those sacred messages from my body in my recovery.
Even if you haven't been exercising consistently, you still have the chance to get on track. Choose an exercise that you enjoy and break a sweat four times this week. As we know, exercise combats stress, helps us sleep better, and raises endorphins. It's good for your sleep, weight, stress, genes, and mind. Even walking counts! Ideally, start to notice your heart rate at rest and while exercising, and after paying close attention to your body, weight, and mood, you'll sort out the perfect route toward feeling and looking your best.