Thursday, September 12, 2019

Restarting Exercise After Injury, Illness or a Longer Break

See disclaimer at the bottom of the page. 

2019 has brought much more illness and injuries than expected. I started the year with several bad colds back to back, the flu, strep throat, and the stomach flu. As a result, my regular exercise program was seriously derailed. In fact, I wasn't able to do anything close to my regular routine until May. And then it felt like starting over, which was very frustrating.

And once I was better, there were more interruptions. We traveled most of July. And while we were very active while in Germany (we got between 20,000 and 30,000 steps most days), I didn't do as many strength exercises. Once I was finally back to my program in August, I fell during a hike and seriously banged up my knee and twisted my "good" ankle, which required me to stay off my feet for close to three weeks. To say it has been frustrating would be an understatement.

Here are a few things I have (re)learned about my relationship with exercise:

  • Exercise is a huge mood booster for me and not being able to exercise is very challenging mentally.
  • It's a slippery slope for me from not exercising to not taking care of my health in general, especially when it comes to my caffeine intake and healthy food choices. When I wasn't able to exercising, I drank more coffee and ate more sugar (I suspect to get energy I usually got from exercise and because I was bored?).
  • I still have somewhat of an all or nothing attitude. It was very hard for me to do some weight exercises while being seated when I couldn't stand because thoughts of "what's the use" kept creeping into my mind. 
  • Accepting that not exercising will result in loss of strength, flexibility and cardiovascular conditioning is something I will always have to work on.

How to Get Back to an Exercise Routine*

  • Start off slowly. The longer you were away from your routine, the more patient you will need to be. It's a good idea to do less than you think you should at first so that you won't get too sore or even hurt yourself. We lose strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness much faster than we think.
  • Doing something is better than doing nothing.  This is especially true when you are recuperating and won't be able to do a full workout. But maybe you can do some stretches? Or a short, gentle yoga routine? Short 10-minute walks are also a great way to get moving after being incapacitated. After a few days, you can do several short walks throughout the day. Or how about an arm workout while you are seated? 
  • Focus on "Cans" not "Cannots:" Don't focus on what you used to be able to do. If you haven't lifted weights for a while, you will have to decrease the weight you used to lift. If you weren't able to run for an extended period of time, you'll need to decrease your mileage or tempo, or both. That doesn't mean you won't get back to where you used to be (and if you have been working out for quite some time, probably sooner than it seems), but focusing too much on your previous abilities can be counterproductive. Instead focus on the fact that you are able to do so much more than when you were sick, injured or not exercising. 
  • Focus on having fun. When you first get back to exercise after an injury, illness or break, focus on exercises that you enjoy the most. When you are having fun, it's much easier to keep going. Once you have regained some of your previous fitness level, add in the "less fun" exercises.

* Disclaimer: Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional.