Hello, exercise: How to ease back into fitness

When it hurts to move, it seems to only make sense not to move. But here’s the deal: moderate exercise improves your joint function, mood and flexibility, actually leading to less pain. If regular fitness has fallen way, way off your to-do list, check out these ideas to help make exercise a totally worth-it part of your life again.

Set SMARTER goals

SMARTER is an acronym to help you break a big goal (“exercise regularly”) into bite-sized pieces. So:

  • Specific: what do you want to accomplish?
  • Measurable: how long do you want to work out?
  • Attainable: does this plan fit into your life and health situation?
  • Relevant: do you like this exercise?
  • Time-limited: when do you want to achieve your goal?
  • Evaluate: how will you track your progress?
  • Reward: what’s your reward for achieving your goal?
 

Getting started

Slow, steady and consistent is the way to go. Check in with your health-care provider to get the go-ahead, consider working out with a friend, and remember to gently warm up and cool down before you swim, walk, bike, dance or go to the gym. A good warm-up is marching in place for five minutes; a good cool-down includes holding stretches for a few extra beats, and taking deep breaths.

Understand that pain

If you have mild pain in a specific joint, start with gentle movements to see what your range of motion is. After a few minutes, lubrication and circulation around that joint should improve and lead to less pain. Moderate to severe pain in a joint before you work out? Work a different area that day—upper body rather than knees, for example. If you have moderate to severe pain during exercise, stop that movement right away rather than trying to push through it. And if you consistently have more joint pain two hours after you work out, change the intensity and ease up next time.

Plan for success

Check your form, either by looking in a mirror or getting a fitness trainer to see how you’re doing. The wrong posture can injure your joints. Don’t eat a big meal less than two hours before a workout, because your body will be focused on digestion rather than getting blood and oxygen moving around your body. Drink up: a glass of water before, during and after your workout keeps you hydrated.