Active vs Passive Recovery for Increased Resilience

Hello everyone Floyd Meyer here I am a Physician Assistant with a Master’s in public health, a degree in molecular biology, and I am currently working in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Today we are continuing our series on Resilience which is the ability to remain well, recover, or even thrive in the face of adversity.

This week we will be continuing our discussion of physical resilience, but instead of talking about ways to stress the body we will be discussing an often overlooked aspect of fitness which is recovery.

In a review article looking at the role of physical fitness and resilience they stated that, repeated, intermittent exposure to physical stressors like exercise, with enough time to recover in between, can lead to physiological ‘stress training’ or ‘toughening’. “This protective physiological profile appears to be associated with improved performance during challenging/stressful situations, increased tolerance to stressors (i.e. reduced behavioral suppression/depression), increased emotional stability (i.e. reduced anxiety/freezing), and improved immune function.” (Silverman et al., 2014)

The key point for our discussion today “with enough time to recover in between”, but is time the only factor? Are there strategies that you can engage in to increase your body’s ability to recover?

Thankfully yes, there are many aspects to recovery that can be optimized improving your body’s ability to grow following stressful situations.

The first aspect of recovery we will focus on is active recovery. Active recovery can be thought of as a practice that will promote recovery pathways in the body. So while you are still doing “work” the volume and pace are much lower than traditional exercise.

These active recovery practices can be extremely beneficial and are used by athletes throughout the world.

Say for example we have 2 people that who do a very difficult sprint workout together. Then the next day person A engages in an active recovery practice by going on multiple short walks, and person B does nothing all day. On the third day person A will be more recovered than person B, all other things being equal. Meaning person A will be more ready to handle additional physical stressors.

Active recovery can take many forms walking generally being the easiest and most accessible. Walking can be an extremely effective practice for your active recovery days. Walking is going to get your blood flowing, get you out in nature, and can help your sore muscles recover faster than they would if you were sedentary. It’s not about the miles walked. It’s more about just keeping your body moving. If you are short on time, plan multiple short walks throughout the day vs one longer walk.

Other options for active recovery include unstructured mobility work, foam rolling, self-myofascial release techniques, and yoga. Really any practice that moves your body in a way that is not causing a significant amount of stress could be considered a form of active recovery.

The other aspect to recovery is passive recovery which mainly takes the form of sleep.

Getting good sleep is a vital aspect of being resilient.

Sleep is the time when your body synthesizes hormones, clears out waste, and it’s when you repair the damage from the day before and build strong resilient tissues.

I have made multiple videos and posts about ways to optimize sleep so make sure to check those out.

Improving your body’s ability to recover will allow you to grow from difficult experiences whether they be physical like exercise or more psychological by giving the mind time to process this new information.

The goal is repeated, intermittent exposure stressors with enough time to recover in between. This is what leads to an improved performance during stressful situations, increased emotional stability, and improved immune function. (Silverman et al., 2014)

I hope that this has been helpful. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments below. If this resonated with you please share with your friends and family and subscribe and follow for more of this content. The time for action is now. Again this is Floyd Meyer. Have a great day!


Silverman, M. N., & Deuster, P. A. (2014). Biological mechanisms underlying the role of physical fitness in health and resilience. Interface Focus, 4(5), 20140040–20140040. doi:10.1098/rsfs.2014.0040 


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