Whether you’re a swimmer, a pickup basketball player, a spinner, a participant in group exercise classes or a yoga enthusiast, it’s likely that the COVID-19 pandemic seriously disrupted your workout routine.
“People who were dependent on (exercise) facilities for a specific type of exercise may be most impacted,” says David Creel, psychologist and director of exercise physiology in the Bariatric & Metabolic Institute at Cleveland Clinic. “Those who work from home accumulate less physical activity throughout their typical (pre-pandemic) day, when they’d walk to and from a parking lot, bus stop or subway station.”
In addition, many parents of school-age children have greater responsibilities, like helping their kids do their schoolwork remotely, which leaves less time for exercise.
Fortunately, there are specific steps you can take to get your exercise routine back on track in 2021.
Experts suggest these seven strategies to hit the reset button on your workout regimen:
— Be intentional.
— Don’t beat yourself up.
— Define your “why.”
— Be flexible.
— Find support.
— Be realistic.
— Track your progress.
1. Be intentional. “If you’ve gotten off track, it’s easy to stay off track,” Creel says. “The inactivity snowball — feel tired, (engage in) less activity, gain weight, feel more tired — can become hard to break free from. Set modest goals to gain some momentum in the right direction.” Creel suggests developing a plan that schedules physical activity into your daily routine.
Daily physical activity can include:
— Taking a walk after dinner.
— Do calisthenics while watching a favorite TV show.
— Walk while talking on the phone.
2. Don’t beat yourself up. Keep in mind that many people have struggled with maintaining their exercise regimen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Berating yourself for falling off your own healthy workout routine isn’t helpful, says Nolan Peterson, a health and wellness coach with the Healthy Living Program at the Mayo Clinic. “If you belittle yourself, what does that get you?” he says. “If you had a friend who was going through something similar, you’d try to encourage them. How might you adopt a similar mindset and encourage yourself? What are you learning that will help you move forward? Instead of focusing on what is not working, consider what is, along with other opportunities on this journey of discovery.”
3. Define your “why.” Everyone has their own reason or reasons for wanting to maintain a healthy exercise routine, says Michele Mehl, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Excy, a line of lightweight stationary bikes that provide full body workouts. Mehl, who played Division I softball and field hockey in college, is based in Seattle.
“For me, I have a genetic pathway of heart disease and I’d like to keep it at bay,” Mehl says. “It’s being able to do active things like mountain biking, hiking and skiing with my son well into my senior years. I also find that exercise gives me more energy, helps me sleep better and helps me with joint pain after years of playing competitive sports.” The “why” is different for everyone; it could range from warding off heart disease and keeping your blood pressure in check to being able to fit into your favorite outfit.
4. Be flexible. The pandemic has prompted many gyms, yoga studios and other athletic facilities to shut down. If a shutdown disrupted your exercise regimen, pivot to another activity, Peterson says. For example, if your favorite yoga studio has gone dark, you might try an outdoor or online class. Weather permitting, there are plenty of outdoor activities you can try, including running, tennis, soccer and volleyball. You might check out exercise apps or home workout equipment. “If you try something and you hate it, that’s OK, try something else,” Peterson says.
5. Find support. Enlist the support of friends and relatives, Creel suggests. “If someone else in your circle is willing to exercise with you, or at least set some fitness goals, this can be very helpful,” he says. If you can’t find someone to work out with you, try social media platforms to look for other like-minded people. You can encourage each other online.
6. Be realistic. You may not be able to exercise as long or as vigorously as you could when you were younger, and that’s OK. “I have multiple old injuries that prohibit me from running without pain, so it would be very unrealistic to pick a goal of running a 3-mile race,” Mehl says. “I might be willing and healthy enough to train for running a marathon, but my body is not able to do so.” Mehl suggests finding the ways your body can move without pain and identifying exercises that complement your abilities. That could mean vigorous workouts with no fear of impacting joints, or more leisurely exercise at a longer duration.
[Read: Exercises for Osteoarthritis.]
7. Track your progress. Monitoring your progress can help you stay motivated. You can do this by wearing a device that keeps track of your steps on a daily basis. If you’re not into technology, keep a simple written record on a calendar to track your physical activity, Creel says. Using your imagination can be useful. “I’ve had patients set goals to walk, ride or step their way to an imaginary destination over several months,” he says. “Walking 20 miles a week for six to eight weeks may lead to the beach, the mountains or their family cabin.”
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