How to get back into exercise
Make the first move
There are any number of reasons why you might not have been working out lately – maybe you’ve been injured or have recently had a baby. Or perhaps you’ve just fallen out of the habit since, well, your school days. But now you’re starting to think about moving again, and that’s the most important step. “It’s never too late to start exercising and reap the associated health rewards,” says exercise physiologist Dr Jarrod Meerkin. “One of the main rewards is the psychological benefit of actually doing something. It’s important that you have a plan, too, so you stay at it.” But what kind of plan should you make?
Well, it depends on what’s keeping you on the sidelines. Follow our expert advice on how to get back into the swing of fitness again, no matter what stage of life you’re at.
After an injury…
When you’ve sprained a joint or broken a bone, once recovered, getting moving again is the best thing you can do. “Exercise can absolutely help you recover from injury. As soon as you stop being active, the decline in muscle mass begins,” says Dr Meerkin. Of course, scaling back your routine is necessary – and you may even need to rethink the type of exercise you do or seek professional advice.
1. Work another area
Injuries in one area of your body doesn’t limit others from moving. Dr Meerkin explains that “If you have a hamstring injury, then your upper body is fine, so do a circuit in a gym just using that.” Try a weight-training routine that works your chest, shoulders, arms and back, to give you a sweaty, but seated, workout. “Similarly, if you’ve got injuries to your upper body, use your lower limbs and do body-weight exercises such as squats and lunges,” says Dr Meerkin.
2. Focus on form
When doing any type of exercise, focus on your technique to lower the risk of injury and doing more damage during recovery.
3. Scale back
After your doctor or physiotherapist clears you for exercise, don’t make the mistake of going straight back to your old routine. Scale it back by at least 50 per cent for the first two weeks to ease back into it. And make sure you’re rocking a good pair of sports shoes. Research published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal states that appropriate footwear can aid the prevention of shin splints – one of the most common running injuries.
Having a baby can put exercise on the backburner, but staying active is beneficial for new mums. It helps shed baby weight, aids recovery if you’ve had a caesarean, boosts energy and can help stave off the baby blues. “Research shows that exercise is one of the best medications for depression,” says Dr Meerkin. And that’s good news, as one in seven Australian women experience postnatal depression after giving birth.
1. Time it right
Light activity can begin 6 weeks after birth or once you feel well enough. Exercise physiologist Dr Michael Baker recommends pelvic floor exercises as a good way to easy into exercise. “Pelvic floor exercises are important to reduce the likelihood of incontinence” Dr Baker explains. “Remember, the goal in the initial weeks should be to gradually increase activity, not weight loss,” he says. “Start with two 10-minute walks a day. If you do it just after a feed it may also reduce breast discomfort and rock the baby to sleep.”
2. Think big
A common error is to focus on crunches to get your stomach muscles back. But it’s best to focus on strengthening your core muscles before moving into any exercise program. During pregnancy the increased amount relaxin, a hormone produced by the ovaries, and your bulging mid-section results in the core muscles stretching. These muscles are essential in supporting your back during any twisting movements or while picking up bub – which is pretty important as a new mum. Look out for exercises which work these deeper core muscles or try our mums and baby workout.
3. Go for a group
After six weeks, up the stakes a bit. Try a ‘mums and bubs’ class, suggests Dr Meerkin. “A group session is great as you motivate each other and develop friendships with women in the same situation,” he says.
After a break…
You can benefit from becoming more active at any stage of life. Regular exercise has been found to improve our heart health, lowers our risk of diabetes and cancer. And it’s never too late to start – even after a long break. Once you start again, here’s how you can make the habit stick.
1. Plan and go slow
The key is to start small. “Do something short, like 10 or 15 minutes of activity five days a week or five minutes a day, seven days a week,” says Dr Meerkin. “Anything that gets the muscles working again is good. Try using a stationary bike or going for different-paced walks around the block – slow one day and fast the next.” Then build up in increments of five minutes. “Get a whiteboard and write out your plan,” says Dr Meerkin. “You might do 15 minutes for the first couple of weeks and then progress to 20 minutes in weeks three and four, so by week seven, you’re up to 30 minutes.”
2. Try new things
Finding something you enjoy doing is key to keeping up the fitness habit so now may not be the time to splash out on a pricey gym membership – you might not like it! “I buy fitness deals on websites such as Living Social,” says WW Member Johanna Castles. “For $30, you can get things like eight personal training sessions or a month of boot camp. It’s a great way to stay active, try new things and save money.” Shop around for what’s close to your home or work, too, so it’s always easy and convenient to get there.