Fall off the Exercise Wagon?

Remember in your 20s when finding the time to squeeze in a walk or run in the evenings was a non-issue? Or in your 30s when you could pop out of bed at 6:00 a.m. and head to the gym for a full workout before work? Maybe you completed a couch-to-5K program and promised yourself you'd keep the momentum going, completing more 5Ks and maybe even a 10K or two before you turned 40.

And then: You got a high-pressure job. You had two babies in three years. You got sick--really sick. Your friend moved out of state. You started to hit the "snooze" button more and more until you just turned off the alarm entirely. We've all been there. Sometimes, even the most well-intentioned of us falls off the exercise wagon every now and again. But there is good news: As easily as you fell off, you can get back on again.

Thirty fitness professionals were asked for their best advice about getting back on the workout wagon, and they all agreed that a combination of the following six steps can help anyone, no matter their exercise experience, get back on track today.

1. Get the green light from your doctor.

Even if you feel as though you're still in tip-top shape, you should always check with your doctor (especially if you are over the age of 69) before starting or resuming an exercise program. Your doctor can help you set realistic activity and weight-loss goals, as well.  
"See your doctor or healthcare provider to not only be cleared for exercise, but also to better understand your limitations. Many hold back with exercise as they have false beliefs about what they can and cannot do due to old advice or assumptions they've made with illness or injury in the past," physiotherapist and group fitness instructor Tammy Uyeda says. "It's best to get those [concerns] cleared up and well defined so you can maximize your workouts safely and without fear."

2. Identify your motivation.

If you stopped working out in the past because you met your weight-loss goals, weren't seeing results quickly enough, were bored or found another outlet for your stress, then what's to keep you from stopping again?
Think about all the reasons to work out  and pick the one (or more) that resonates the most with you. Write down your biggest motivators where you can see them every morning and regularly remind yourself why you're starting back up again.

According to Annika Swanson, a NASM-certified personal trainer and coach at Ledbetter Inc., "The number one reason to get back into exercise should always be health and longevity. Individuals who exercise regularly sleep better, have a stronger cardiovascular system and stronger bones, lower depression rates and improved ability to handle stressful life situations. Weight loss or muscle gain are usually what extrinsically motivate people, while self-love and self-confidence are the best intrinsic motivators."

3. Set goals.

You’ve decided you want to lose 10 pounds, but have you thought about how you are going to do it? Are you going to walk your way to a 5K? Great! Now, assess how long it will take to get there and work backward. You may not be able to walk the whole distance tomorrow, but if you follow a plan you might see that goal become a reality in as little as five weeks.

"Some people derive great satisfaction in setting and then achieving goals. You can record your daily progress [and] you will feel good about yourself when you achieve your goals." Health and fitness expert Carol Michaels says.  "Keep in mind that just like everyone else, you will have good and bad days, so you should be able to adapt. Keep as active as possible, be safe and have fun."

4. Find the fun.

There are no rules against having fun with fitness and you'll be more likely to stick to a routine if you find it enjoyable. Try a variety of classes and activities. If you don't like one, move on to another until you find an atmosphere that works best for you and your goals.  
"It’s completely acceptable to just hit a Zumba class for fun, or go throw around some weights because you’re curious. You can time your cardio around your favorite show, or use it as a way to punctuate your work day from your down time in the evenings. [Associate exercise with your] way to turn 'off' and be a more relaxed and present version of yourself at home," Melinda Parrish, a plus-size model and writer, says.

5. Find a partner. 

If you quit in the past because there was no one holding you accountable, then maybe that's the change you need to make exercise stick this time around. It's harder to ditch spinning class if your friend is counting on you to show up. Even better, if you and your buddy share similar goals, you can share tips and tricks and the highs and lows of your weight-loss journeys.  
If working out with someone else isn't your thing, consider hiring a personal trainer, even if just for the first free trial period. Personal trainer Tyler Read recommends taking the trainer route: "If you do not trust in yourself to have the motivation and drive to start working out again, hire a personal trainer. This does not have to be a long-term thing, as the first month of working out is the most important part towards developing good exercise habits. The personal trainer can help keep you accountable and push you slightly past your comfort zone so that you see the results more quickly, but also not risk injury."

6. Pace yourself.

Even though you're still proud of your high school swim team glory days, unfortunately, working out is a use-it-or-lose-it situation. For that reason, you shouldn't hop right back into the pool and go all-out at your 18-year-old speed or you could be setting yourself up for failure or injury. The most important thing to remember is that you're back at it, making an effort to become healthier person. No need to focus on the fact that you can't swim two lengths of the pool today. 
"One of the most common things people try doing when they haven't worked out in a while is going to the extreme, either to speed up results or make up for lost time. This usually results in injury or burn out, [then] you're back where you started, off the exercise wagon," Erick Avila, a strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist says. "Instead, ease yourself into a training program. Three sessions of 30 minutes a week is a good place for most people to start. Depending on your previous level of physical conditioning, it's relatively easy to get back in the swing of things."
Allow yourself a bit of a "ramp-up period," wherein you start slow but allow for greater gains as you continue. For instance, if you used to be a runner, start back into it by walking for the first week or two, then slowly adding in intervals of running and walking for the next two weeks, until you can run more than you can walk, and eventually you'll be back to running in a matter of weeks.
"An individual who lifted weights in [his or her] younger days but hasn't entered the weight room since then should not try to attempt a max-effort lift when [he or she] first begins lifting again. Regardless of the type of exercise, it is important to follow a safe progression of frequency, intensity and duration in order to avoid injury, maximize sustainability and achieve long-term results," Swanson says.

Results take time, but stick to the course and you'll be glad you did. If something isn't working for you, ditch it and try something else. With so many different workout options from which to choose, there's bound to be something out there that you'll love.