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How to start exercising after you've taken a break

Easy tips to up your movement

If you stopped working out regularly during the pandemic, or you were sidelined by an illness or injury, don't be too hard on yourself. Between pandemic lockdowns, gym closures, and changes in family or work routines, taking time off from exercise is something most of us do from time to time.

It's true that an exercise break can quickly undo some of the health gains you made when you were working out regularly. A study published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine External Site found that taking a break from physical activity for as little as two weeks can result in a substantial reduction of muscle strength and mass. Plus, research shows it takes even longer to gain it back.

Don’t put exercise off for long

Exercise is too important to put off long term. In addition to building strength and stamina, a Blue Cross® Blue Shield® Health of America Report® External Site shows regular exercise is the most effective way to improve your physical and mental health, ward off chronic disease, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve overall immunity. However, only 23 percent of American adults External Site get the recommended amount of exercise External Site each week.

The good news is that some exercise — even if it is minimal — is better than none. As always, before you start a new exercise routine, talk to your primary care provider. This is particularly important if you have a chronic health condition or are recovering from an injury or illness. Even if you’re healthy, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional, who may have advice about how to get started safely.

8 ways to get back into the habit of exercise

  1. Find a meaningful “why.”

    Dig deeper than your physical appearance or weight. For example, do you want to feel better so you can keep up with your kids or grandkids? Are you looking to boost your brain health? Do you want to live independently? Are you hoping to ward off a chronic disease like diabetes? Or, are you hoping that exercise will help you feel more energized and productive? On hard days, when the last thing you want to do is move, dig into your reason and use it as motivation.

  2. Set a fitness goal.

    A wellness goal can help motivate you into making exercise into a lifelong habit. It can be anything from regularly taking the stairs instead of the elevator, to training for a race. Before beginning your journey, it’s important to know that no one is built the same and we all respond to exercise differently so don't compare your goals to those of others. For ideas, start with one of these five fitness challenges or talk with a health coach or personal trainer.

  3. Take it slow and steady.

    If you are not used to a workout routine, you can — and should — start small. It takes several weeks to get into a pattern of regular exercise. The longer you do it, the easier it gets. Start with just a few minutes a day of cardio, then work up to the recommended amount of time (30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week, plus resistance training to build up muscle strength twice a week). To get started, check out our library up helpful exercise content here on Blue, where you'll find guidance on proper form and pacing. You can also find online tutorials from a wide array of YouTube instructors External Site. If your budget allows, it may help to schedule a few sessions with a professional health coach or personal trainer.

  4. Make yourself a priority.

    Don’t leave your workouts to chance. Instead, plug a time into your planner, online scheduler or calendar. Treat your exercise time like an important meeting that you can’t cancel, or a necessary self-care strategy that can energize, improve and add years to your life.

  5. Find a workout partner.

    When it comes to exercise, encouragement and support can go a long way. You’re less likely to ditch your workout if you know you’re meeting a friend. Find someone to exercise with who will hold you accountable and help you feel more committed. Choosing to workout with a friend is also quality time spent forming a social bond. Start here with these partner workouts you can try at home.

  6. Warm up and cool down properly.

    Ultimately, exercise should help you do everyday activities safely and efficiently. That’s why it’s important to focus on mobility and flexibility during your pre- and post-workout routine. Warm up your muscles with these dynamic stretches and take a few minutes to cool down after your workout with these static stretches.

  7. Shorter bursts of movement count.

    You don’t have to dedicate large amounts of time daily to a workout. Sometimes, a 15-minute at-home workout is a far more achievable goal than an hour spent at the gym. If you have young children at home or an otherwise packed schedule, find something you can do in shorter bursts, like these full-body HIIT workouts Or, you can find ways to add more activity into your day.

  8. Listen to your body.

    To avoid setbacks, always pay attention to your body when you exercise. Stay alert to serious symptoms, and seek attention immediately if you experience chest pain or pressure, severe shortness of breath, or if you feel dizzy, faint or weak.  

Overall, the best exercise routine is the one you enjoy and make time for, so find a plan and stick with it.  For more ideas to beat exercise boredom try options like rowing , walking, swimming or spinning. Remember, all the information you need to refresh your workout routine can be found right here on Blue. 

Need workout gear? Or a new gym membership?

Save money with deals and discounts though Blue365® — available to you exclusively as a Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield member. New workout gear has a way of making a new workout routine a reality. Get yourself off to a great start with discounts on apparel, footwear and more External Site with Blue365.

Blue365® is a discount program available to members who have medical coverage with Wellmark. This is NOT insurance.

Blue365® is a registered mark of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.