Fitness and Recovery Tips for the Aging Military Member

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Patrons of the Warrior Fitness Center exercise on treadmills June 17, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The fitness center has elliptical machines, stair climber machines, stationary bikes, treadmills and row machines for cardio workouts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Lancaster)

Many people discover that the physical things they could do in their teens and early 20s become more difficult when they are over 35 years of age. However, you may be older, but you can also be wiser through experience and may even see improved performance as you age by learning how to train and recover properly.

Young military members and aspiring recruits should learn proper recovery and training methods now. You will be older longer than you are younger in the military if you make a full career of service. For both the young and older military members, longevity and optimal performance depend on learning and consistently pursuing the mastery of recovery.

What Is Recovery Training?

While it is important to train consistently by using the fitness skills needed in the military (strength, grip, power, speed, agility, muscle stamina, endurance, flexibility and mobility), it is even more important to recover fully from the stress life places on the body each day.

Recovery is not just limited to the physical stresses on the body. You must also consider the mental and hormonal stresses that emerge over the course of your life. Stress from workouts, night shifts, long and stressful workdays, less than optimal nutrition choices, extreme temperatures and, of course, seeing and experiencing life-or-death situations will all require us to find ways to improve recovery for our mind and body.

Both younger and older athletes need to pay attention to these recovery needs for optimal performance and longevity:

  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • Hydration
  • Breathing
  • Mobility
  • Flexibility

All of these must be a point of focus each day. Due to training and deployment cycles, you cannot meet all of the above needs with perfection, but what can be done, should be done.

Sleep Is the Number One Recovery Tool.

If sleep is jeopardized for any reason (work or play), the need for the others to be met with full force is even greater. Restorative sleep is the goal. Check out the recent podcast with Dr. Kirk Parsley, who specializes in improving sleep in military members and veterans alike.

Nutrition Is Number Two on the Recovery Tool List.

Many will argue nutrition is equally as important for fueling high performers, overall health and immunity, as well as recovery properties in amino acids (proteins), antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals needed for overall health and wellness.

Hydration in an Extreme Environment Could Be the Most Important Element

It takes only a few hours without water in hot, humid or arid environments to become a heat casualty and find yourself unable to function. Combating sweat dehydration requires that you add electrolytes to your diet. When you lack adequate levels of water and salt in the body, that's a 1-2 punch to the body that will cause performance failure and prevent the body from cooling itself. You can still function for many days without proper nutrition and sleep, but a day without water will end horribly for you.

Breathing to De-Stress, Mobility Work and Stretching

These can all be done at one time to relax, eliminate soreness and loosen tight muscles and joints. The earlier in life you start to incorporate regular stretching and breathing skills, the better you will feel and perform. You find that you can get away with skipping these steps when you are young, but it is an absolute necessity to add regular mobility days and post-exercise stretching to your day as you age into your late 30s and 40s.

Recovery Is Not Just Resting and Doing Nothing

Having a day to relax and unwind is healthy and a good night's sleep can be enough for recovery, but it is best to stay in motion on a rest day, even if that movement is simply walking and breathing, flexibility or mobility exercises, or a focused recovery or technique and skills day.

Logical Training Progressions

As you age through your 20s and into your 30s and 40s, you will find that you can continue to see progress, but your ability to recover fully will take longer than it did in your teens. While performance can increase throughout those middle years, it is only because you continue to push yourself and focus on your personal recovery.

As you age, you may find that you don't need that last rep when lifting heavy weights, that full-speed sprint or another 100 reps of calisthenics. You can even trade some of your running miles for non-impact cardio time. These are some logical progressions to help you avoid the injuries that can occur as we age and "do things that we used to do."

"Eighty percent is the new 100%" is a favorite saying that I started using when I turned 40. For more than a decade, I've eliminated training injuries. You can still progress and build up to training two hours a day 5-6 days a week into your 50s and 60s, if you just follow a few rules.

Each day, we have to make healthy choices, though often the very things that help us recover are not considered. Taking your sleep and nutrition seriously are the two areas that require even more discipline than a one- to two-hour daily workout session. The remaining waking hours of our day are where the true discipline comes to challenge us.

Without the big two recovery methods helping to balance out all the stress we place on our minds and bodies, our physical efforts will be diminished, affecting both optimal performance and longevity.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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