Pos­i­tive Feed­back

Spend­ing time in na­ture, with friends or in a happy place aids re­cov­ery. Science says so!

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

Let your mind re­store your body. You know, go to a happy place

Af­ter a race or hard work­out, our bod­ies can be pretty out of whack. Cor­ti­sol, a hor­mone that’s re­leased when we’re un­der duress, floods our sys­tems. And our beaten-up mus­cles, re­plete with mi­cro-tears, trig­ger an in­flam­ma­tory re­sponse that makes us feel stiff and sore. Although it sounds aw­ful, this stress re­sponse en­ables our bod­ies to adapt and be­come stronger. But if the cor­ti­sol and in­flam­ma­tion linger, and bro­ken-down mus­cles don’t re­gen­er­ate quickly, trou­ble is on the way – in the form of de­creased per­for­mance, in­jury and ill­ness. To pro­mote a swift re­turn to nor­mal, most run­ners turn to such tra­di­tional re­cov­ery tech­niques as ic­ing, foam-rolling and massage. And new stud­ies are un­cov­er­ing ways that we can use our minds to re­store our bod­ies. The bonus? Each is less painful than an ice bath.


Science says Re­cent re­search has shown that the ben­e­fits of na­ture go be­yond the aes­thetic. In­ter­leukin-6 (IL-6) is a mol­e­cule that en­cour­ages in­flam­ma­tion through­out the body. It turns out that amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ences in na­ture – that stir feel­ings of vast­ness and beauty, and a sense of per­spec­tive (we’re quite small, re­ally) – may be linked to lower IL-6.

Re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, found that more than any other emo­tion, th­ese feel­ings of awe are linked to lower IL-6. 'Awe has a strong neg­a­tive re­la­tion­ship to a marker of in­flam­ma­tion, a phe­nom­e­non that seems like it’d be quite ben­e­fi­cial to run­ners,' says study au­thor Jen­nifer Stel­lar. Although more re­search is needed to closely ex­am­ine why awe has th­ese ef­fects, Stel­lar be­lieves that 'ex­pe­ri­enc­ing awe gives us a greater sense of well­be­ing, makes us feel more

con­nected to the uni­verse and more hum­ble'. Th­ese feel­ings, she says, 'may re­duce stress, less­en­ing in­flam­ma­tion'. Your move 'The day af­ter a race or hard work­out, con­sider a walk in the woods or an easy run at sun­rise or sun­set,' says Stel­lar. Not only does light move­ment aid mus­cu­lar re­cov­ery by stim­u­lat­ing blood­flow and flush­ing out the waste prod­ucts of mus­cle break­down, but sim­ply be­ing in na­ture could re­duce in­flam­ma­tion. 'Just be sure to dis­con­nect and re­ally take in your sur­round­ings,' says Stel­lar. Even a run in the most spec­tac­u­lar lo­ca­tion won’t in­duce awe if you’re glued to your phone.


Science says Re­search pub­lished in the jour­nal Phys­i­ol­ogy & Be­hav­ior re­ports that the ra­tio of testos­terone to cor­ti­sol – which acts as a good in­di­ca­tor of sys­temic re­cov­ery (the higher, the bet­ter) – was higher in ath­letes who watched post-game videos in a so­cial en­vi­ron­ment with friends than in ath­letes who watched them in a neu­tral en­vi­ron­ment with strangers. What’s more, the 'so­cial group' per­formed bet­ter in com­pe­ti­tion a week later. 'A friendly set­ting – one that en­ables you to talk, joke and de­brief with other ath­letes – seems to help with re­cov­ery and fu­ture per­for­mance,' says study au­thor Chris­tian Cook, pro­fes­sor of phys­i­ol­ogy and elite per­for­mance at Ban­gor Univer­sity.

It’s likely that the ben­e­fits of so­cial in­ter­ac­tion are rooted in evo­lu­tion: 'Our phys­i­ol­ogy prob­a­bly evolved to re­ward sup­port­ing one an­other,' says Stan­ford Univer­sity psy­chol­ogy lec­turer Kelly Mc­go­ni­gal. 'The ba­sic bi­ol­ogy of feel­ing con­nected to oth­ers has pro­found ef­fects on stress phys­i­ol­ogy.' So­cial con­nec­tion shifts the ner­vous sys­tem into re­cov­ery mode and re­leases hor­mones such as oxy­tocin, pro­ges­terone and va­so­pressin, which have anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties. 'What’s cra­zier,' she says, 'is that oxy­tocin helps your heart re­pair. It’s pretty po­etic that feel­ing con­nected to oth­ers lit­er­ally fixes a bro­ken heart.' Your move Fol­low­ing a race or hard work­out, stick­ing around at the fin­ish line to cheer oth­ers on or hav­ing a bite to eat with friends could help ini­ti­ate a nat­u­ral re­cov­ery process. ‘Of all the things I’ve tried to ex­pe­dite re­cov­ery af­ter in­tense train­ing ses­sions, so­cial in­ter­ac­tion seems to work best,’ says Steve Mag­ness, au­thor of The Science of Run­ning (Ori­gin Press) and track and cross-coun­try coach at the Univer­sity of Hous­ton, US. Af­ter his ath­letes’ hard work­outs, Mag­ness ‘en­gi­neers forced so­cial in­ter­ac­tions’ in the form of team break­fasts and din­ners, group cool-downs and de­briefs, and game nights. Not only do Mag­ness’s ath­letes report feel­ing more re­cov­ered af­ter so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, but they also have seen an in­crease in their heart-rate vari­abil­ity (the change in time in­ter­vals be­tween heart­beats, a wellac­cepted in­di­ca­tor of re­cov­ery). Mag­ness has found that for most of his ath­letes, ‘so­cial re­cov­ery has a bet­ter im­pact on heart-rate vari­abil­ity than more tra­di­tional re­cov­ery tech­niques like ice baths and massage.’


Science says Re­search from Ban­gor Univer­sity found that ath­letes who re­ceive pos­i­tive feed­back and fo­cus on what they did well fol­low­ing a com­pe­ti­tion have a bet­ter hor­monal re­sponse than those who re­ceive and fo­cus on neg­a­tive feed­back (what they didn’t do well). In par­tic­u­lar, those who re­flected upon their suc­cesses had sig­nif­i­cantly more testos­terone, a hor­mone associated with mus­cle and bone re­pair and growth, cir­cu­lat­ing in their blood. Study au­thors spec­u­late that pos­i­tive re­flec­tions help ath­letes tran­si­tion from the stress of a work­out into a more restora­tive and con­fi­dent state. Your move Help your post-work­out body make that tran­si­tion from the stress of a ses­sion into a restora­tive state by en­gag­ing in pos­i­tive re­flec­tion. Mag­ness ends all post-work­out and post-race de­briefs on a pos­i­tive note. ‘Even if your work­out or race didn’t go well, find some sort of pos­i­tive and re­flect on it,’ he says. ‘This can be as sim­ple as en­sur­ing you al­ways fin­ish your train­ing di­ary en­try with a short note about some­thing that went well and can be built upon.’ This isn’t to say Mag­ness and the ath­letes he coaches don’t dis­cuss things they can im­prove, 'but we make sure the bal­ance of the con­ver­sa­tion fo­cuses on what went well', he says. ‘We save the neg­a­tive stuff for the next day, once the ath­letes have re­laxed and de-stressed.’

BE AMAZED Let the nat­u­ral world have its way with you

TALK IT OVER A post-race chat and a drink can work won­ders

ON RE­FLEC­TION… that race re­ally wasn’t too bad

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