woman running outside on trail

Getting Back Into “The Groove”

Tips for Resuming Regular Exercise and Activities

Now that Wisconsin’s Safer at Home guidelines are being relaxed, YMCAs, gyms, fitness facilities and parks are beginning to reopen. That is great news for many people who are looking forward to becoming physically active again. But after a few months of straying from our workout routines, how do we get motivated?

Set New Goals

For many of us, the hardest part is getting started. The goals and incentives that may have motivated us in the past no longer provide the push we need. The key is seeing this fresh start as a positive. We now have the opportunity to reframe the picture a bit.

“For some, having a run, bike ride or race to prepare for is the greatest motivation,” said JP Larson, Physical Therapist and Orthopedic Clinical Specialist with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “Other people might be motivated because their medical provider told them they needed to get healthy again. Whatever our motivation, it’s all good.”

He noted that while many in-person races have been cancelled, there are still several virtual races one can participate in.

“Use those opportunities to challenge yourself or create competitions among friends,” he suggested.

Get Outside

It’s typical for people to become more sedentary in winter because it’s not pleasant to be outdoors and going to the gym becomes more of a hassle with having to wear boots and outdoor clothing. Now that temperatures are warming up, many of us feel naturally inclined to get moving again.

“For me, the weather finally getting nice enough that I don’t mind being outside is a great motivator,” said JP Larson, Physical Therapist and Orthopedic Clinical Specialist with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “Being able to get outside and engage in exercise alone or with friends, makes it easier to stay active while still social distancing.”

Exercise as a Family

Now that families are spending more time together, it’s a great opportunity to explore ways to exercise as a family unit.

“Being able to get outside and possibly do things with family or friends is a great healer,” Larson said. “It will be important, of course, to talk with your kids before you go on a hike or bike ride with friends and explain that social distancing is still extremely important.”

Badminton, basketball, playing catch and kickball also serve as great outdoor exercises for a group. If exercising indoors, try yoga or core workout videos that can be done together in the living room.

Remember the Benefits

The importance of regular physical exercise cannot be understated. That fact alone should be a great motivator.

“Anytime you go to your medical provider, they are likely going to talk to you about having a goal of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise every week – something to get your heart rate up for 30 minutes five days a week,” Larson noted. “That can be as simple as walking or biking, and it doesn’t have to be 30 consecutive minutes. If, when you start, you can only do 10 minutes of exercise, that’s better than not doing anything. Eventually, you’ll build up your endurance.”

Exercise is not only good for building muscle strength and improving our cardiac health, it’s also good for our minds and spirits – something we may need now more than ever. Not to mention, there is a sense of accomplishment that comes with completing everyday tasks, such as an exercise routine.

“Having little successes to build off of, such as keeping track of the exercises we do and how much we improve over several weeks, helps us feel normal again and can make a huge difference in our mental well-being,” he said. “It’s proven that not only does exercise get our heart rate up and our blood flowing, it also it burns calories for weight loss and releases chemicals in our brains that are associated with improving our mood, memory and focus.”

Take It Easy

As we start returning to our fitness facilities and getting back to running or biking again, we should recognize that many of us are practically starting over.

“Don’t compare yourself to others or where you were when the pandemic started,” Larson said. “Most people are making a fresh start. It’s important that we get moving again without injuring ourselves. We have to be honest with ourselves as to where we truly are with our physical fitness level and choose activities that match that level. Your body will tell you when it’s being overstressed; listen to your body, go slowly and take a break when you need it.”

Larson offered an analogy he likes to use with his patients recovering from hip or knee replacement surgery.

“They often think that once the surgery and joint replacement are over, they can immediately go back to their normal activities. That’s not how it works,” he said. “It takes weeks for our muscles to get back to a normal level of activity. It’s like this time of year when we start planting tomatoes in our gardens. We don’t plant the seedlings and then expect to go out the next week and pick a ripe tomato. The plant needs time to grow. That’s just like our muscles; they literally need time to grow, too.”

The key to success will be establishing a habit.

As Larson explained, “Once you make your new routine a priority in your life, you are on your way to better physical and mental health and a greater sense of accomplishment.”