The stories are fairly familiar aren’t they? You were pretty active at school, and perhaps for a few years after that, but soon settled into the form of adult living we call “sitting on the couch”. Or perhaps you were a committed runner all through your 20s and 30s but then you picked up an injury and somehow never got back to the road. Maybe it was your hectic work schedule that kept you from the gym. Or it could be that your two pregnancies and the demands of parenting have come between you and your bicycle. Many of us have lived these, or similar, scenarios.

Because you’re reading this it may well be that you’re one of those folks who have decided to get active again, after a long lay-off. We hope so, because that could be one of the very best decisions you can make for yourself. We’d like to help you by suggesting a few things to consider carefully as you return to active living…

What went wrong? If you have been inactive for a long time, something must have gone wrong. Was it a physical thing like an injury or illness or pain? Was it a lifestyle challenge like time-pressure, parenting, travel, moving house, etc.? Or was it something more psychological like feeling depressed or stressed so you just do not feel like exercise at all? Perhaps you got bored or stopped enjoying your training? Even if you think you just sort-of-lost-the-habit, or some such, careful thought should help you see what actually stopped your last bout of active living. In any case we strongly recommend you spend time thinking about this because you’ll want to learn from the past in order not to repeat it.

What are your goals? What are your trying to achieve? Weight loss, strength, endurance, energy, productivity, improved mood, better sleep, pain control, general mobility, completing an event, competing….these, and more, are all reasonable goals for exercise. Any or all of them may make sense to you. They are all quite possible and realistic for most of us. But which are most important to you? We suggest you choose (no more than) three goals and write them down somewhere, in your own words.

Is it safe? Exercise is good for you and almost anyone can exercise safely. But if you have not exercised for a year or more, and especially if you are over 40 and or have any medical conditions, or if you just feel a bit unsure, please see your family doctor before starting any form of exercise. A check up and perhaps a few simple tests could go a long way to making sure you’re ‘good to go’.

Start slow. You’ve heard this one before, of course. But please, please, please, start slowly. One of the most common reasons for a failed return-to-exercise is an early injury and this is most often caused by doing too much too soon. You’ll want to ask your doctor or a personal trainer for specific advice but here are a few examples of how you can make sure you do not overdo your training:

  • Make your initial goals simple and not ambitious in any way.
  • Do not exercise for more than 15-30 minutes initially.
  • Stop if you have pain.
  • For the first 1-2 months, make sure you have at least one rest-day between each exercise-day and do not train for more than 4 days a week.
  • Think about gradual increases in training. You can use “5% per week” as a guideline so that, for example, you might walk 5% further in your second week, or train for 5% longer, or run 5% faster. This “5% rule” is quite handy for starting-exercisers but please note that as you get fitter you may need even smaller improvement-targets.
  • Accept that ambitious targets such as running a half-marathon, or entering a major cycle event, can take 6-12 months of training (more if you are very overweight or older or have physical limitations) if you want to stay well, motivated, and injury-free.

Returning to an active lifestyle is one of the very best things you can do for yourself. Some careful thought, planning, and a sensible approach will help you succeed!