11/07/2016 - 10:32

Improving your health this summer

By Rodrigo Plaza*

As if we hadn’t waited long enough, spring has finally arrived and we can only hope that summer isn’t far behind. While many of us hid indoors during the cold winter months, hoping that we might catch just a brief glimpse of sun before embarking on our evening commute, now it seems that the streets have become overwhelmed with smiling pedestrians and panting marathoners who are just happy to no longer be running through snow.

Indeed, following the turbulent winters, the sun drenched days of spring and summer provide excellent opportunities for getting back into shape. Some run, bike, or swim to improve cardiovascular fitness and burn fat, while others lift to build muscle and sculpt their bodies. Of course, every person’s goals and schedule are unique so there is no one “right way” to get into shape. But, regardless of what you choose to do this summer to improve your health, I can guarantee you that two variables will play a fundamental role in ensuring that your program is successful: water and sleep.

Water and sleep? Really?

Yes. Water and sleep play essential roles in the most important part of a workout plan – recovery. Most of the people I see planning out their workout plans after a long hiatus focus on the workout itself. They ask, “How far should I run each day? How much weight should I lift? How many reps should I do? Should I work out 2 or 3 times a week?” These of course are all important questions, as they define the direction you will take your workout plan. But what prospective athletes most often forget is that the majority of progress made during a workout program actually occurs during the recovery period – the time you spend resting. During your workout, you push your body perform at full capacity and, if possible, reach new levels of ability. But when you are at rest, your body begins the process of building muscle in preparation for future workouts. It is during this rest time when your body truly makes the gains that you worked so hard to produce during your run or time at the gym. And so, without sufficient sleep, your body never has the time to build muscle or prepare for the next workout, meaning that your body isn’t able to reap the full benefits of your efforts. Moreover, without sufficient rest, you are also unlikely to be able to push yourself in the subsequent sessions that week.

I often like to think of sleeping as putting money in the bank: you can spend all day working (out) to make your paycheck, but if you don’t put that money in the bank at the end of day, it’s like it never existed.

When it comes to water, it’s a similar story. Without going into the intimate details, the simple explanation is that water is an essential ingredient in the process by which your body builds muscle and recovers. Thus, if you don’t drink enough water, your body will take much longer to make the gains in strength and endurance that you seek. But how much is enough water and sleep? While the precise amount can vary with your size, weight, and daily exertion, in general, a 180lb individual should strive to drink between 65-85 ounces of water a day, which is about 8 to 10 glasses of water a day. As for sleep, it’s difficult to get too much, but at a minimum, ensuring that you get 8 hours of sleep every night should be sufficient. In short, make sure to sleep plenty and drink lots of water so that you reap the full benefits of all of the hard work you put in this summer – and don’t forget to have fun!

*Rodrigo Plaza is a Harvard graduate, Soccer Coach, and Outreach Coordinator at Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.