McFarland Clinic

How to Make Exercise Part of Your 'New Normal' After COVID

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July 14, 2021

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be thinking about your health and exercise habits. Maybe you fell out of the habit of working out, or maybe you just want to get started with a new routine. Follow these tips to help you get started.

Why Should You Workout?

Exercise and activity have multiple benefits for your physical and mental health, says Marc Shulman, MD, primary care physician with McFarland Sports Medicine.

“We all know about the cardiovascular effects of exercise and how good it is for our hearts and our lungs,” says Dr. Shulman. “It’s also good for us if we’re pre-diabetic or diabetic. Exercise is also important for our overall well-being. Mental health has also been shown to improve dramatically with regular exercise.”

How to Find Motivation to Exercise

One thing that may help you find motivation to work out is to think about why you want to do it. Do you want to socialize with friends? Do you want to try a Couch to 5K? Maybe you want to be outside more, or maybe you just want to be healthier. Write down two or three things that motivate you to get back to working out, and put it in a place you will see often.

What Types of Workouts Can You Do?

Once you have your motivation, try looking into the options where you live that interest you, says Sarah Bancroft, DO, primary care physician with McFarland Sports Medicine.

“Think about whether you’re interested in walking, running, spinning, lifting weights, Zumba classes—or many of the other workout options you could try,” says Dr. Bancroft.

Dr. Shulman suggests checking with local parks and recreation departments as well as schools and universities.

“We have multiple opportunities here in Central Iowa for all sorts of activities,” says Dr. Shulman.

Start Slowly and Make Progress

When starting a new workout routine–or when restarting an old routine–it’s best to take it slowly and gradually increase the amount of activity over time.

“It doesn't have to start off being strenuous, vigorous or overexerting,” says Dr. Shulman. “If you haven't walked before, start slow and pace yourself. If you're picking up a sport you were doing, don't expect to be where you were before the pandemic if you haven't done it now in many months. Understand that we have some muscle memory, but we also have a learning curve again.”

Dr. Bancroft suggests setting realistic, incremental goals and gradually increasing them.

“You don’t want to try to run a marathon tomorrow if you haven’t been running throughout the pandemic,” says Dr. Bancroft. “Maybe start doing five minutes a few times a day. We recommend the ultimate goal to be about 150 minutes per week, but that might not be realistic to start with, so I recommend that you work gradually back into your routine over several months.”

Hold Yourself Accountable

Holding yourself accountable can be a helpful method to track your progress and stay in your workout routine over time. Some methods for holding yourself accountable include:

Workout Apps

There are multiple workout apps that can help you chart your progress on a regular basis. Some are simple note-taking apps. Others include full workout plans, videos, and technology for tracking your vitals during your workout.

Diaries or Journals

If you prefer a more low-tech option, try a workout journal or even just a simple notebook to track your progress.

Workout Partners or Groups

Working out with a partner or in a group can be an effective way to hold yourself and others accountable for setting and reaching exercise goals.

“Everybody's looking for new things to do and reconnecting with the world,” says Dr. Shulman. “It's been a long time since we were able to do that. Figure out what you want to do and look around for others who are doing the same.”

Health Concerns to Think About

When starting to work out again coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to think about possible health concerns.

Exercising After You’ve Had COVID

If you have had COVID-19 in the last six months, or if you’re currently having any symptoms of COVID, you should consult with your doctor to make sure you are clear to begin exercising at the level you are planning.

Working Out After an Injury or Health Issue

If you have suffered an injury or had health issues or concerns, consult your doctor before beginning any workout.

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