How To Get Back Into Exercise After Taking A Break, According To Experts
An exercise routine that works for you and your body can be a tough thing to figure out to begin with. But mix winter and everything horrible that comes with it, and it probably made it difficult for most people to want to get out of bed — let alone work out. Not to mention that with winter can come Seasonal Affective Disorder, aka SAD — a kind of depression that ebbs and flows with seasons and affects around 4 to 6 percent of the U.S. population, according to statistics from the American Academy of Family Physicians. Unfortunately, one of the most common and prominent symptoms of depression is intense fatigue, which can interrupt daily activities such as work, school, and exercise. If your workout routine has been impacted by winter, these eight tips can help you safely get back into your groove.
With spring weather arriving (well, at least in some states — sorry East coasters!), many people who live with winter depression may be ready to get back to the gym. People with other chronic health issues and mental illnesses that involve symptoms of depression can be affected by the change in season. These experts weigh in on how to begin an exercise routine in a healthy, doable way if winter depression or snowy weather put your workouts on hold.
1. Talk With Your Physician First
Before you even step foot in the gym after a break, make sure you get the stamp of approval from your doctor or treatment team. Steven D’Ambroso, DPT, a physical therapist at Professional Physical Therapy, says to "visit your primary care physician first [before exercising again], to make sure everything is stable and within boundaries."
2. Start Slow
D’Ambroso explains that taking things slowly is your best bet to avoiding injury and developing a realistic routine. "Go light for a few weeks or even a few months, before going into more moderate or higher intensity training," he says.
Additionally, Elissa Linderman, MS, ATC, an athletic trainer for Professional Physical Therapy, says to "focus on the basics — form and flexibility — to help prevent injuries." With developing an exercise routine after taking a lengthy break, slow and steady is the way to go.
3. Set Goals And Celebrate When You Reach Them
"Set attainable long and short-term goals, to keep you motivated throughout your exercise journey," says Linderman. Whether it's adding another minute to your cardio time, or using heavier weights, celebrate the small successes and goals that are in your reach.
4. Gradually Increase Your Time Working Out
"Always progress time, then frequency per week, to build muscle endurance, to prevent re-injury from overcompensations or bad form," says D’Ambroso, who adds that proper posture is extremely important. Furthermore, Linderman explains that you should "build up your workout tolerance levels." Meaning, don't go to the gym several days in a row if it's been a while — especially if you want to keep your momentum and motivation.
5. Start With Exercises You Know
"Start your exercise routine with what you know and are comfortable with, before branching out into other forms of exercise," says Linderman. "This helps prevent getting discouraged if it’s too challenging for someone at your level of fitness."
If cardio and weights were your preferred exercise method before you went on your winter hiatus, it's probably not the best idea jumpstart your routine with a CrossFit class or spinning. Stick to what you (and your body) are familiar with, at least at first.
6. Bring A friend
Linderman says one way to get back into a regular exercise routine is to have a buddy to exercise with "to help keep you motivated and on track." Moroever, Shape reported that many studies have shown the benefits to having a workout partner include feeling less stressed after a workout, enjoying the workout more, and less risk of experiencing an injury.
7. Try Exercises That Benefit Your Body & Mind
"Aerobic exercise has proven health benefits for both the heart and the mind," says Linderman. "Walking on the treadmill, pilates and yoga classes are all great options for someone who is struggling with mental health issues and fatigue." Choose workout routines that don't feel like a chore or obligation. Instead, find something that feels therapeutic and beneficial to both your mental and physical health.
8. Be Aware Of Your Needs
What works for one person may not work for you, and that's okay. "These answers can all vary, depending on the individual," says D’Ambroso. "The key is to provide pertinent education and make the person aware of the things they need to do for themselves to become self-sufficient, consistent, and maintain a healthier lifestyle."
Most importantly, be patient with yourself and your journey. Your energy on any given day will vary, and it is important to do what feels best for your health — which may mean skipping a workout. Try not to compare your progress others, and focus on what you need to do to feel healthier and happier.