It’s no surprise that many people struggle to stick to regular workouts over the long haul. Let’s face it – exercise is uncomfortable at best and grueling at worst, and it requires time and commitment. Quite frankly, with so many other distractions today, it’s understandable why some people find plenty of other preferred activities.
Often with good intentions, individuals start an exercise routine, but then get sidetracked by lack of motivation or life’s challenges, like illness, a move, work, travel, schedule changes, loss of a job, and more. The reality is, however, that exercise is integral to maintaining health, fitness and quality of life. Countless research studies point to the multiple physical and psychological benefits of consistent exercise.
So, it’s essential to keep coming back to exercise. If you’ve been derailed, ditch the guilt and shame – and use that energy instead to identify your roadblocks and determine ways to overcome them. The good news is that all exercise counts, and even a little is better than nothing. Plus, it’s never too late to start – or restart – exercising, and benefits begin accumulating quickly over time.
Start today. Don’t procrastinate, but take the first steps to enrich your health and take care of yourself. Here are some helpful recommendations on how to get back to exercising, whether you’re young or older, a beginner or a veteran.
How to Get Back to Exercising
- Check in with your doctor – While this may seem like yet another roadblock right off the bat, it’s smart to see your primary care physician before you dive in to workouts – especially if you are older, suffer from any chronic diseases or haven’t exercised for years. And, if you haven’t been to the doctor in ages, this is a non-negotiable.
Your doctor can conduct a physical, run some blood tests and identify any potential health issues that may impact your ability to exercise safely. It’s better to find this out ahead of time – rather than suffering a potential medical emergency while you’re on the treadmill. We get it – no one likes to go to the doctor, but it’s ultimately in your best interest. One exception: if you’re in your 20s and only have missed a month or two of sweat sessions, it’s probably OK to bypass this step.
- Identify some goals – You’re more likely to stick to an exercise plan if you are working toward a goal or two. But it’s important to be realistic so you don’t set yourself up for failure. So, goals to lose 20 pounds in one month or to do cardio for two hours daily are extreme and unlikely to be realized. If you haven’t exercised in more than a decade, a goal of hitting the gym 6 days per week may be too much at first.
Goals should be aspirational and motivating, but not so overwhelming that you quit after one week. Also, make sure that your goals are specific, versus something vague like exercise more. A better goal would be to aim for three exercise sessions per week, for instance, or attending two fitness classes each week.
- Plan ahead – Nobody ever seems to discover “free time” to fit in exercise, so you must schedule workouts or it’s unlikely that they will happen. Evaluate your schedule and figure out when you can get moving. That may mean you have to get up earlier, use your lunch break to exercise or hit the gym after work – and this may vary according to the day as well.
The point is to commit time to workouts, put them in your calendar and honor them fiercely. Your goal is to make exercise a habit, just like brushing your teeth.
Decide if you will exercise at a health club or at home, and then sign up for/renew your membership or create a workout space where you live. If possible, seek out a workout buddy who can keep you accountable and provide companionship as you both get healthy together. Even if you can’t do every workout as a team, this support is a great way to adhere to your routine.
If unexpected interruptions cause you to miss a workout, check your calendar to see if you can make it up, complete a quickie routine or add a few minutes to upcoming sessions. Do your best to fit it in, but if that is impossible, then simply move forward with your scheduled sessions and resist any urge to give up altogether.
- Gear up – You don’t need a ton of gear to exercise, but at the least, make sure that your athletic shoes are supportive and suitable for workouts. Don’t wear tennis shoes for running, for example. Again, if it has been a long time since you last exercised, it’s probably a good idea to buy new shoes.
Beyond that, all you need are some comfortable workout clothes and a water bottle. If you’re exercising at home, do you have equipment already, or will you purchase a machine, such as a stationary bike, elliptical or treadmill? Do you have some dumbbells, resistance bands, a mat and a bench for strength training? Or do you have a library of workout DVDs, or a streaming service or apps that you subscribe to for routines?
Other optional gear, such as heart rate monitors, smartwatches, activity trackers and apps can add information about workouts and deliver personalized data to measure progress and boost motivation.
- Seek guidance and start small – Before you start, be sure you are doing things correctly. At the gym, ask a personal trainer if you don’t know how to use some machines, and be willing to try some new ones. Or sign up for a few sessions with a trainer to get a customized program. Inquire about the group exercise schedule, and check with an instructor for details on classes, where you can get expert instruction. The first time you attend a class, tell the instructor that you are new so you get valuable guidance.
And if you work out at home, seek reputable sources online, in magazines or in books about exercises and routines. If you buy fitness equipment from a specialty dealer, many have trainers that can show you how to use it and develop an initial regimen.
Ideally, your routine will include cardio, strength and flexibility. But it’s OK to start with one or two elements first, and work your way into it. Remember to start slowly, at a lower intensity and for a shorter duration when you first get back into exercise. Gradually, you can increase your intensity and time as your body becomes conditioned. Don’t go all-out right away, or you risk an injury that may sideline you once again.
- Celebrate success – Stay motivated by rewarding yourself with what you like, such as a new workout outfit or weight training gloves, after you’ve been exercising for two weeks or one month, or when you hit one of your goals. Or schedule a massage or get tickets to a sporting event after two-three months of consistent workouts.
If you’re a numbers person, then use an app or smartwatch to help record your workout stats and measure your progress. Seeing in black and white all you’ve accomplished through regular sweat sessions can be a powerful motivator.