Thanks to the isolation of pandemic life, demanding jobs, and winter darkness, these days we’re all sitting longer than we’d like. We’re stuck on our duffs, whether at our desks or binge-streaming TV shows. All that sitting is putting our health at risk, compromising our posture, exacerbating back and spine injuries and slowing our metabolism overall. Experts have found that too much inactivity will raise people’s chances of developing Type 2 Diabetes! What can you do? Something you’re likely to have been nagging yourself about: starting a regular exercise program. You’ll feel better both physically and mentally.
But unless you’re inclined to exercise, getting started is a challenge. With best intentions, you may go to the gym or try an online workout at home—and the next day feel so stiff it’s as if you got hit by a bus. So, you take a day off to rest your sore muscles, which can turn into two…or more. Finally, you work out again. The pattern repeats. The days in between attempts to exercise get longer and longer until you stop altogether. Sound familiar?
Remember, when learning any new skill—and exercise is one—we start from the beginning and practice, practice, practice. You didn’t start out skillfully driving a car. First you had lessons and then you practiced. And, then you got your license. You improved with time. Exercise is the same.
Know yourself. Before you don your yoga pants, assess your fitness level. You probably have a good idea of what shape you’re in. Are you starting from scratch? Do you walk the dog? How far and for how long? It makes sense to check with your doctor if you’re very overweight, managing a chronic disease, or recovering from any type of injury. What are your goals? Are you trying to lose weight or do you want to be healthier overall? Write your goals down and post them where you see them every day. It will help motivate you to keep going.
Start small and build slowly. If you’ve never been running, don’t go out the door and try to jog 5 miles. Check with your doctor or physical therapist if you have an injury or medical condition so they can help you design a program that starts at an appropriate level and build as you need it. Work out 5 minutes at a time if that’s all you can do. Make sure you stretch before and after each exercise session. And, don’t get discouraged if gaining skill takes longer than you expect.
Build a balanced routine. Everyone has trouble finding time to exercise. Make it easier on yourself by scheduling the time, just as you would any other appointment. Once the activity is on the calendar, it’s harder to skip. If you’re at home and the kids want your attention, have them join you, and start their good habits early. If you’re alone, you can multitask. That favorite TV show? Watch it while you’re on the treadmill. Read on the stationary bike. Listen to an audiobook on your walk. Some people swear by workout classes that won’t reimburse you if you cancel—if forces them to show up whether they want to or not.
Variety can be key. You don’t have to be on the treadmill every day. Go on a weekend hike with friends or family. Find activities that keep you moving and add them to your program. The more creative you are, the less it feels like “I have to” and more like “I want to.” In fact, variety in an exercise program means you use more muscles in different ways, adding to your overall fitness and strength.
Allow time for recovery. Listen to your body. So many people start exercise programs all hyped up and work out too long or too intensively and then give up when they hurt. Plan time between sessions so your body can rest and recover. Remember that you’re moving muscles you haven’t before. Just because you’re sore, doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. If you don’t know the difference between soreness and injury, don’t work out on your own—make sure a trainer is teaching you until you feel safe on your own.
Starting an exercise program may be one of the best things you can do for your health. Pair it with a healthy diet and you can change your life for the better.