Reboot Your Fitness Routine

Tips for starting (or restarting) regular exercise

Sometimes even the most dedi­cated fitness buffs among us fall out of our routines. Family and career obligations, illness, inju­ry, major life changes like a move to a new city—any of these can disrupt our program, and we soon find ourselves going for five days per week or more without physical activity.

If this has happened to you and you’re ready to return to exercise, where do you start? How do you keep yourself safe when you are not as strong or fit as you once were, and how do you keep yourself motivated to rebuild fitness?

First, start sensibly to make sure your body is ready to get back to work and that you enjoy the process. Keep these tips in mind as you get moving again:

  • Set Realistic Goals. For example, if you used to regularly go out for 10-mile runs, remember that even a mile or two might feel difficult when you return to the sport. You build up strength, muscle memory, endurance, and mental tough­ness when you’re working out a lot, so it’s natural to feel like your old routine is out of reach when you pick up an ac­tivity again. Don’t be hard on yourself! Remember that by rebuilding a little at a time—say, starting with a mile and gradually adding distance—you are more likely to stick with your comeback and not get discouraged. And you may even find yourself stronger than before.
  • Make Adjustments. If you had to take time away from exercise as the result of an illness or injury, you may not have the same abilities as you did before. This can be frustrating, but the fact is you have already succeeded by deciding to be active again. So take pride in that and learn how you make al­lowances for any physical changes. Your doctor and physical therapist can help you make safe choices.
  • Get Your Whole Body Back In Shape. If you have truly been inac­tive, consider that you are rebuilding your body completely. Aim for a mix of strength, balance, and aerobic exercise. Even if you prefer one type of activity and would rather focus on that, you’ll be able to enjoy it more safely if your mus­cles and joints are conditioned to work together and support one another.
  • Call A Friend. Sharing your workout with a friend can make your session more than just physical effort by also making it a great time to catch up with a pal. Plus, together you’ll encourage one another, celebrate your achievements, and get each other moving on those low-motivation days. Having an exercise companion can be a bonus anytime, but you might find the support particularly valuable when you are returning to ac­tivity after a big break.
  • Keep It Fun. Even knowing that you are doing something important for your health and that the physical and men­tal pick-me-ups you get from exercise are huge rewards, you are less likely to get moving if you don’t enjoy the ac­tivity. Some of us can spice up a run or walk by choosing a beautiful new route or listening to our favorite music, but others might need a legitimately fun and playful activity to get moving. Try something new (even if it seems a little crazy), such as dance classes or orien­teering (using a map and compass to navigate from point to point)—whatev­er it is that gets your body moving and puts a smile on your face.

—Mia James