Whether you stepped away from your exercise regimen because of an injury, scheduling conflicts, to give birth, or simply because of a loss of motivation, the process of getting back into the exercise groove can be overwhelming. You know it's going to be an uncomfortable endeavor, as any fitness achievements you had gained have dwindled over months or years of inactivity.
During your time away from exercise, your heart becomes weaker and your circulatory system becomes less efficient at delivering oxygen to your working tissues. You lose strength because your muscles atrophy and your neuromuscular system becomes less capable at activating muscle fibers.
Still, the benefits of returning to a consistent workout regimen are well worth the struggle. Your body will respond the moment you begin to exercise again. Exercising has immediate effects on your blood sugar levels and minimizes the energy fluctuations that happen throughout the day. It strengthens your heart and lowers cholesterol, which in turn reduces your resting heart rate and blood pressure. Strength developments are seen nearly immediately after starting to weight train. Plus, the instant release of endorphins with exercise reduces stress and boosts mood.
Visit Your Doctor: Get Checked Out Before Exercising
While it's safe for most people to incorporate moderate physical activity like brisk walking, it's a good idea to get a physical before jumping into a more rigorous exercise program after a long bout of inactivity.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends seeing a doctor before exercising if you're over 35 years of age, have a family history of heart disease, are a smoker, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or are significantly overweight.
Visiting your doctor is especially important if you're returning after an injury. You want to make sure that your bones, joints, connective tissue and muscles are ready for the stress of physical activity.
Baby Steps: Start with Complex Exercises and Make Small Commitments
Trying to immediately run five miles or do a high volume weight-training regimen isn't a good idea. It's important to ease back into exercise to prevent injury. You can't just pick up where you left off or you'll hurt yourself. Plus, biting off too much than your body's ready for can make it harder to stick with a new program.
By easing into it, you allow your body to adapt to the stress of exercise gradually. You give your connective tissues, bones, muscles, heart and circulatory system time to develop safely. Patience will pay off in the end.
As you start out, commit to just five minutes of exercise per day. Go for a five-minute brisk walk or do five minutes of weight training. When you lift weights, do a single set of complex, multi-joint exercises (such as squats, deadlifts and bench press), as each work several muscle groups. In the beginning, focus on building an exercise habit rather than trying to get in shape as quickly as possible.
Schedule it in Your Calendar: Make It a Part of Your Routine
It may be difficult to be disciplined with your workouts at first, so set yourself up for success by scheduling your sessions into your calendar. Working out first thing in the morning is best. As the day goes on, work and personal life demands may mount and make it easy to skip your workout.
If you're going to the gym, prepare your gym bag and set it by the front door the night before. If you're working out at home, lay out your workout clothes and any equipment you need out the night before. Make incorporating exercise into your schedule as easy as possible and you'll be more likely to stick with it.
Short Term Goals: Make a One-Month Challenge
Setting short-term goals will help make the task of incorporating regular exercise into your routine more manageable. Make a one-month challenge for yourself. For example, you could shoot for exercising 20 days out of the month. Use a printed calendar and put an "X" on the days that you complete your exercise goal to keep track of your progress. It it'll help you remain disciplined, promise yourself a reward at the end of a successful month.
Make Your Workouts Fun: Select Exercises You Like
It's going to be very difficult to stick with a new exercise regimen if you hate every second of your workouts. You'll have a much better chance of exercising consistently if you pick workouts and exercises that you enjoy.
If you can't stand running, try brisk walking or cycling on an elliptical machine. If you hate the gym, opt for workouts at home or at a neighborhood park.
You may even elect to regularly mix up your workouts. Some people prefer to incorporate two or three different types of exercises. For example, you may want to walk three days of the week, lift weights two of the days and work out with a fitness trainer on another day.
Choosing exercises you enjoy will be the key to workout consistency.