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Your Get-Back-in-Shape Plan

If you’ve stopped exercising due to illness, injury, or any personal setback, these six simple steps will help you get back to being fit.
By Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH
WebMD Magazine - Feature

I have a friend who spent much of last spring training for a half marathon. She printed out a training schedule and gathered a group of friends to run with in the early morning before her kids woke up. She spent 12 weeks building her endurance, experimenting with running at different speeds, and getting mentally ready.

Three days before race day she developed a deep cough. She tried to run the race but had to drop out after two miles due to the pain in her chest. Eventually the cough morphed into pneumonia. All told, she stopped exercising for 29 days, which meant that when her body was finally healed, she was sorely out of shape -- and demoralized to boot.

Sound familiar? I'll bet you've thought at some point, "I'll never get in shape again.” Maybe your exercise plans got derailed by an injury. Or maybe it was work demands, family schedules, or an emotional trauma like a divorce or death in the family. Whatever it was, you've fallen off the exercise wagon and aren't sure you'll ever be motivated or fit enough to jump back on.

This happens to just about everyone. Realize that you can rebuild your stamina and come out of this healthier, stronger -- and maybe even a little wiser. Here's how:

Create a fitness goal. Women tend to spend a lot of time dwelling on their current state of overweight and lack of fitness. That sort of self-defeating thinking doesn't help anyone. Sit down and figure out a goal you want to achieve. Do you want to run one mile or five? Swim two laps or 20? Climb every mountain or maybe just that hilly sidewalk in your neighborhood? Write it down and keep it in front of you. The refrigerator is a good place. So is your desk.

Create a fitness plan. Now figure out the baby steps you're going to take to get to that goal. Look at how, where, and with whom you spend time, and start to make changes that allow you the time you need to get back in shape.

Create fitness opportunities. If you've been injured and are on the road to recovery, find ways to exercise that begin to rebuild your strength and stamina. You might try elliptical or rowing machines, bicycling, dancing, swimming, or easy hiking. Maybe now is the time to start yoga or Pilates.

Focus on the Three “M’s”

Mind. Accept that you have hit an obstacle and you need to find a different path. See this as a chance to explore new approaches to self-care and fitness.

Muscles. Start slow. Sure, you were able to run five miles two months ago, but right now you can only run one. So run one and know that you'll build up again. This is also a good time to think about strength training, since strong muscles, ligaments, and tendons help prevent injury. Aim to use weights twice a week or shoot for 25 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, or similar exercise to start.

Mouth. Remember, fitness isn't just about exercise. It's about your total health. Concentrate on other ways of nourishing your body. For example, make it a goal to eat more vegetables, cook more often at home, and bring healthy homemade lunches to work.


Reviewed on December 01, 2011

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