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Young couple prepares to ease back into exercise after a long break by stretching.

How to Return to Exercise Slowly After a Long Absence

Posted in: Blogs , English

Now that more people are getting vaccinated and restrictions are beginning to ease, many people want to get physically active again. Here’s what you need to keep in mind when easing back into exercise after a long break and how to avoid injuries.

  • Start slow, and don’t forget your stretches.
  • Start with a simple exercise plan.
  • Keep your goals small and measurable.
  • Know when to stop to avoid hurting yourself.

Keep on reading to learn more about each item.

Start Slow and Steady

It may be tempting to jump right back into doing exercise at your pre-pandemic pace, but doing that can lead to injury — which can also lead to getting demotivated. It's helpful to begin by taking things slow, like going for 30-minute walks to get your body used to physical activity again. 

Stretching is more important now than ever before. After months of a sedentary lifestyle, stretching is a fantastic, non-threatening, and low-impact reintroduction to an active lifestyle. Not only does it increase flexibility, but it also improves posture, reduces back pain, and prepares your muscles for a workout. Committing to a simple stretching routine — whether you're beginning or ending your workout — can make a world of difference and even help you avoid injury. 

Put Together a Simple Exercise Plan

Before heading to the gym, it's helpful to get a physical evaluation first from your primary care physician or physical therapist. Consider it a reassessment of your current strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular health levels. From there, you can put together an exercise plan that suits your current fitness level and lifestyle. Taking small steps and including various workouts that incorporate low-impact cardio and resistance training is an excellent place to start. Here are some activities you should consider.

  1. Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS) Training
    LISS training is a method of cardio that involves aerobic activity of low-to-moderate intensity over a continuous period. Examples of LISS exercises include brisk walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling. It is a good alternative for those looking to go back into or working towards high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
  2. Pilates
    Pilates is a low-impact exercise that focuses mainly on foundational core strength, joint mobility, and overall flexibility. Having a strong core is a great launching point for easing back into more intense exercise, as this ensures your body has a stable foundation.
  3. Yoga
    Yoga is a practice that focuses on combining physical postures with breathing techniques, meditation, and relaxation. It improves flexibility, balance, and muscle strength. Its focus on breathing and relaxation also helps practitioners be more mindful of their bodies.

Make Sure To Keep Reasonable and Measurable Exercise Goals

After taking an extended break from exercise, you may notice that you cannot do things you once could. This can be incredibly frustrating for athletes or highly active people and lead to unrealistic goals or complex routines that can only be a setup for injuries.

The key to easing back into exercise is to set reasonable and measurable goals — for example, it may not be practical to run a 10k yet, but you could try jogging for two to five miles without stopping. Breaking down your bigger fitness goals into smaller increments can help give you a sense of achievement and keep you motivated as well.

It may also be tempting to make too many lifestyle changes at once, which can be overwhelming. Focus on one goal at a time until you successfully turn it into a habit before pursuing other fitness goals. 

Know When To Stop so You Can Avoid Injury

During a workout, it can be tempting to push the limits of your physical strength. Should you run another mile? Should you do an extra set? Should you put additional weights on? Going too far can be a recipe for getting hurt, so it's best to stick to your routine and only change it up when it feels like it's too easy. 

There's no shame in throwing in the towel either. It would be best if you stopped your workout when you experience the following:

  • Lightheadedness. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded in the middle of a workout, this could mean dehydration, a sudden shift in blood pressure, or low blood sugar. This could lead to fainting and can even be a symptom of a heart attack or stroke.
  • Sharp pain. Any pain that feels sharp or stabbing is not a normal physiological response. It could mean impinged or torn tendons, bone friction, a pinched nerve, or a muscle cramp/spasm.
  • Localized pain. If you feel pain in one specific area, such as your head, neck, back, ankle, or knee, it could indicate that you're moving/exerting something that shouldn't be moved or exerted in that way. It could mean incorrect form or that you're placing too much pressure on that area.
  • Worsening pain. If pain continues as you exercise, that could mean worsening damage to an injured part of your body.
  • Swelling. If swelling occurs at the site of pain, that could mean your body is redirecting blood flow and other inflammatory factors towards it. This is how your body responds to an injury. 
  • Painful popping. If you hear something pop, followed by pain, it could mean an acute injury such as ligament tearing or partial dislocation. 

Ready to ease back into working out but don't know where to start? Discuss your goals with your St. Joseph and Texas A&M Health Network primary care physician and consider joining our WellFIT Program. In the event of an injury, schedule a one-on-one consultation with a St. Joseph Health orthopedic specialist.


The Washington Post | Why Stretching Is Important During the Pandemic

NHS U.K. | A Guide to Pilates

The New York Times | Yoga for Everyone: A Beginner's Guide

Fox News | 8 Pains You Mustn't Ignore When Working Out

TIME | How To Get Back Into Working Out After a Long Time

Healthline | How to Ease Back into Exercise Safely After a Long Break

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