Here's Why It Takes Longer To Recover From Exercise When You Get Older

As we age, our bodies go through changes that can affect our ability to recover and stay active.

One of the most common issues encountered by elderly individuals and those caring for them is a decreased ability to easily "bounce back" after exercise. 

It's a common scenario: after years of regularly exercising, you now find yourself taking longer than usual to recuperate in between workouts. an older woman exercising in a gym

But why does this happen? In this article, we'll explore the reasons why recovery rates tend to slow down with age. 

This article is intended for informational and educational purposes only.

Please consult a doctor or medical professional before making any changes to your physical activity or diet.

The author of this article is not a medical or health professional and should not be held liable for any injuries or damages resulting from attempting the activities discussed in the article.

What Is Muscle Recovery?

As we age, our muscles and tendons naturally tend to become weaker and less effective.

Muscle recovery post-exercise can be challenging for the elderly, as the body requires time to rest and heal after strenuous physical activity - this can lead to fatigue, muscle soreness and a decrease in performance.

Muscle recovery is a vital process in getting back to our baseline - it involves restoring and improving muscle fibers, as well as regenerating the chemical pathways that are necessary for muscle function.


The aim of this practice is usually to reach or even surpass our pre-exercise level, so we're able to perform at an optimal degree once again.

For seniors, there are specific steps they can take to optimize muscle recovery.

These may include such things as increased rest, optimal nutrition and supplementation, massage therapy, the use of cold or hot compresses or stretching.

Additionally, engaging in light-to-moderate exercises regularly can help improve muscle strength and endurance.

When muscle fibers heal, they actually become stronger and more durable than before.

Through consistent recovery of muscles and tendons, seniors can remain in good physical condition for years to come with a decreased risk of harm or injury.

Regular muscle regeneration also helps maintain an active lifestyle that keeps you fit even as you age!

Why Muscle Recovery Gets Harder As We Age

As we age, our bodies produce less of the hormones needed to help rebuild and repair muscle tissue.

Our immune systems weaken, making it harder to fight off illnesses or infections which can slow down recovery.

The body also loses some of its ability to produce energy, making it difficult to get adequate amounts of rest and nutrition - this can lead to a slower recovery rate.

In addition, age-related changes in the structure and function of muscle cells also contribute to longer recovery periods.

With fewer active motor units available and an overall decrease in muscle mass, older adults find it more difficult to generate enough force and power during physical activity.

This can lead to soreness and fatigue that lasts longer than it would in a younger person.

Finally, age-related changes in the nervous system can have a negative effect on recovery.

As we get older, our nerves become less responsive and slower to send signals. This can cause a decrease in muscular coordination and efficiency, leading to increased fatigue.

Ways to Support Muscle Recovery as You Get Older

Adequate rest and sleep is essential for muscle recovery

Getting enough sleep is important for muscle recovery as your body uses this time to repair and recover from physical activity.

Make sure you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep each night in order to maximize muscle recovery.

Incorporate a balanced diet of healthy proteins, carbs, vitamins and minerals

Making sure we ’re consuming enough key nutrients is essential for muscle recovery as they help to fuel the body and provide it with the necessary building blocks to repair and rebuild.

Consider adding a variety of lean proteins, complex carbs, vitamins and minerals into your diet and speak with your doctor about taking any additional supplements if needed.

Stay hydrated to support muscle recovery

Yes, water really IS that important: Drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day helps to keep your muscles hydrated, which is key for muscle recovery.

It’s important to stay hydrated before, during and after exercise as this will help with muscle repair and reduce any inflammation.

Stretching before + after exercise to reduce stiffness in muscles

Warming up and down is important for muscle recovery and can help to alleviate soreness.

Warming up before exercise helps to loosen the body and increase its range of movement, while cooling down afterwards helps to gradually decrease physical activity levels and reduce any stiffness in muscles.

Regular massage or foam rolling sessions to reduce tension and inflammation

Inflammation and tension are common in muscles after exercise, but regular massage or foam rolling sessions can help to reduce this and therefore improve muscle recovery. Massage helps to improve blood flow and eliminates any toxins that have built up in the muscles. Foam rolling also increases flexibility while helping promote relaxation and reduce soreness.

Heat or cold therapy can be effective for relieving soreness

Both heat and cold therapy can be effective for relieving soreness after exercise. Heat therapy helps to improve circulation and relieve tight muscles, while cold therapy reduces inflammation, pain and swelling. Consider using a heating pad or ice pack before/after physical activity in order to reduce any discomfort that you may experience.

Slow, controlled exercises to help build and strengthen muscles

Vigorous exercise is great for muscle building, but if you’re over the age of 50 it’s important to make sure you’re not overexerting your body. Slow and controlled exercises can help build and strengthen muscles without overtaxing the body as they require less effort and intensity.

Try yoga, Pilates and breathing techniques for flexibility and relaxation

Yoga, pilates and breathing techniques have many benefits, such as increasing flexibility and improving posture, relaxation and stress relief. Consider adding these into your exercise routine in order to reap the many physical and mental health benefits they have to offer.

Maintain an active lifestyle to prevent muscle atrophy

Lastly, remaining active in any way you can, such as taking regular walks, cycling or swimming, will help to prevent muscle atrophy (loss of muscle mass) from lack of use. This is particularly important for those of a certain age as our muscles naturally start to weaken with age.

Final Thoughts

For most of us, muscle health and function decline as we get older - while it's not possible to stop the process entirely, there are things we can do to help slow down muscle loss and improve recovery time after workouts.

It becomes increasingly important to take care of our bodies and give them the support they need to recover from exercise.

Muscle recovery is a process that can be aided by adequate sleep, nutrition, and hydration. There are also many supplements on the market that can help with muscle recovery, such as protein powders and BCAA supplements.

By taking steps to support muscle recovery, we can maintain our physical health and fitness into old age.

What do you do to aid in your own muscle recovery? Let us know in the comments!

Previous article Why Don't I Recover From Exercise?