It’s not always easy getting back into exercising. I was talking with a college friend recently who was bemoaning the fact that she’s no longer as active as she had been. Once an avid cyclist and somewhat dedicated runner, she had been sidelined by the vagaries of age. It started with a balky knee that needed to be scoped and then she just fell out of the routine. So how to get back into the swing of things, she asked.

She’s taken the first step—interest. You can’t get off the couch if you don’t care to. So give yourself props for contemplating lacing up those sneakers again and digging out the workout clothing. Next step, get real. Much as you’d like to be able to crush a 7-minute mile like the old days, the key now is adapting to what you can reasonably do. Fact: our ability changes as we age. 

Step 2: “Prep the canvas” as Certified Health Coach and longtime trainer Judy Torel says. Start with a gentle stretching routine. The goal is to get flexibility back into your muscles. She calls this “dynamic limbering.” And be patient. You didn’t achieve your “level of relaxation” overnight so don’t expect to be back in the game overnight. Once you’re comfortable moving again—and that should take 4-6 weeks—add cardio and weights. If you jump into that too soon, you risk injury. 

Recovery time increases along with age. As strength and weight management specialist Jeanine Trimboli points out, be alert to signs of overtraining. If you’re experiencing muscle soreness beyond 48 hours, if your sleep is impaired and your new routine doesn’t bring you joy, back off. These are signs you’re doing too much. Your workout should make you feel better. If it doesn’t you won’t continue.

Step 3: Pick your activity. Craft a plan that suits you. If it’s biking, make sure your bicycle and helmet are still in good condition. Make the investment so the activity is fun. Does the lure of running still call? Check out a Couch-to-5K program.  They’re tried and true and will push you just enough. After you’ve “crushed” that, you might want to sign up for a local 5K road race. These events are great to connect with others and support local organizations.

If running isn’t in your wheelhouse, embrace walking. The benefits are similar. You’ll see improvement in cardiac function and get an energy boost. Walking also helps to keep your weight in check, improves sleep, and helps keep your bones strong. The recommendation is 30 minutes a day. Start with 10-minute walks, adding additional 10-minute sessions as you build to a continuous 30 minutes of walking. There are a host of walking apps to track your distance, heart rate, calorie burn, and more. You may also look for a walking group in your community to help keep you motivated. 

One of my favorite workouts is swimming. The water’s buoyancy is kind to creaky joints. Even if you can’t swim, you can enjoy activities in the pool like water aerobics. A lady friend of mine swears it’s helped her trim down and tone up, surpassing her physical fitness of 25 years ago.  

Step 4: Build strength. Weight training isn’t about bulging muscles. As trainer Derek Gelato points out, we need strength to get us off the couch, to dance with loved ones, to carry groceries. And yes, the research is definitive: you can build muscle at any age. Working with 3 or 5-pound weights is a good place to start. 

If you’re trying to get back into exercising, remember, it’s not what you did back “then.” It’s what you are doing now.

Benita Zahn is a certified health and wellness coach working in the Capital Region. Learn more about how Benita Zahn took the leap and changed careers mid-lifebenitahealthcoach.com

Want more information?

Couch to 5k – 5k/10k Schedule | Jeff Galloway

Weight Training – Strength Training Workout for Beginners | Shape

Walking apps  – The 8 Best Free Walking Apps for Fitness Walkers of 2021 (verywellfit.com)

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