How To Get Back Into Shape Quickly After Years Of Inactivity
The short answer is “It depends!” because how fast you get into shape is directly relevant to your present physical condition and how fast your body reacts to physical conditioning. For example, someone 10 pounds overweight, but with no physical limitations, will get in shape a lot faster than someone 50 pounds overweight with Type II diabetes and bad knees.
Not only will it take the second individual longer to get in shape, s/he will need to use a different strategy. And the reality is the second person may never get to the fitness level of the first one. But it is not a competition, it is individual and doing anything is better than doing nothing.
Getting fit after years of inactivity is like taking a car out for a drive after it has been setting for ten years. If you are a car aficionado, you know you wouldn’t get in it and see how fast you could max out the r.p.ms in every gear. You would baby it along and gradually get it up to speed. The body after years of “non-use” is the same way.
You want to start slow and gradually work your way up the fitness ladder. The American Heart Association recommends a good place to start is exercise three to four times per week, 30 to 60 minutes each time, with a target heart rate of 50% to 60% of your maximum heart rate. To calculate your maximum heart rate take 220 – your age (for men) or 226 – your age (for women).
For example, the maximum heart rate for a 50 year-old man would be 170. Sixty percent of that figure would be 102 beats per minute. Increase your level of activity over a 6-week period eventually getting your target heart rate up to 70 to 80% (80% would be 136).
A good place to start is with a mix of cardio and strength training. Walking, running, playing tennis, biking and swimming are all good cardio activities that will get your heart rate up to your target range. Of course before starting your exercise routine, be sure to warm-up with stretching both before and after working out.
If you have bad knees, then substitute an elliptical trainer for walking or running and don’t even think of playing tennis. With either cardio or strength training, adjust time/intensity and weight/repetitions to keep your heart rate in the appropriate range. With strength training, start out light on weight and repetitions and work up.
The other half of getting fit is eating right. While you are at the doctor getting checked out to see if you are fit enough to start an exercise program, also ask about a nutrition plan. It will be different for you if you have to lose a lot of weight than it would be if you are already at the proper weight for your height and age.
Getting fit is about setting a goal and then gradually working up to reach that goal. Trying to reach your goal as quickly as possible is just asking for a debilitating injury which could set you back months.
Getting back into shape
Let’s talk about what happens when you get out of shape. If you haven’t worked out for 2 to 3 months, you have lost half of your aerobic fitness.
During your hiatus, your lung capacity to expand has shrunk, meaning you no longer breathe in the same volume of air, your blood vessels have contracted, meaning your heart is not moving as much blood through your circulatory system with each beat, and your muscles have lost a significant amount of their strength.
Starting Over Again
First, depending on why you quit working out to begin with, you may want to get cleared by your doctor to begin working out again, especially if your reason for quitting was due to pregnancy or an injury. Second, don’t expect to start up at the same intensity as where you left off. The good news is that your workouts will start to get easier in 2 – 3 weeks and by the 4 – 6 week mark, you’ll be back almost to the fitness level when you stopped exercising.
Now it is more important than ever to do a good warm-up before getting into your workout routine; the same with cool-down. Take the time to devote to these pre- and post-workout activities that should include light aerobic exercise and dynamic stretching. What you don’t want to do is suffer a debilitating injury that could delay you even longer from getting back into shape.
The Process of Getting Back Into It
During the first couple of weeks go light; start working out 2 to 3 days per week for 30 minutes each time. Gradually increase the number of days you exercise and the duration of your workouts until you can go up to 45 minutes each time.
If you are strength training, start with only half the weight you once used and half the number of repetitions; gradually start adding on more weight and increasing the repetitions.
If you run, get back into it by walking briskly for 30 to 45 minutes. In the beginning, insert a 1 minute jog/slow run into every 4-5 minutes of walking. As time goes on, run more and walk less. Before long you’ll be running 45 minutes without walking. You’re back!
Do Something Different This Time
People stop exercising for various reasons; if you stopped because of boredom, decide to take up some other form of exercising. Instead of running, try biking. If you like to run outside but can’t due to extreme weather either buy your own treadmill or join a gym so you can run inside.
Sometimes all you need is an exercise buddy. Not only will that person keep you motivated and accountable, it is good friendship and gives you something to do while exercising.
The important thing to remember when starting back on an exercise program after a long break is to start slow, warm-up/cool-down and gradually work up to where you were (or even better). You didn’t get into shape overnight the first time, nor should you expect to this time.