Even if you start ever so slowly, know that returning to a workout routine means you'll soon get those feel-good serotonin and dopamine boosts from exercising.
And let's face it, with so much time cooped up at home due to coronavirus lockdown measures, it's been all too easy for many of us to gain a couple of pounds or more. But if you join me, we can all be in this together.
Now let's think about the path to get back on track. While it might seem tempting to try to whip yourself back into shape by jumping into heavy weight training or intense cardio out of the gate, this cold-turkey approach will overstress your system — and you could easily hurt yourself by training too hard, too soon.
That's why I'm sharing a seven-part series of weekly articles to safely guide you back into an effective workout regimen that will set you up for long-term success. This first one sets the foundation by guiding you into a positive mindset and getting you moving in the right direction.
There will be plenty of time later in the series for intensive workouts, but for now, we're going to ease our way back.
So, whether you're reestablishing an exercise routine — or even starting for the first time — read on for an easy three-step process to get you on a consistent path.
Reconnect your mind and body
When getting back into an exercise regimen, it's natural to focus on how much better we want to make ourselves look, but let's stop for a moment and think about how physical activity will improve the way we feel. Any negativity we might be feeling about our bodies being "out of shape" actually stems more from our minds and bodies being out of sync.
Remember, physical activity produces those feel-good chemicals in our brains that reinforce our positive mind-body connection. Developing this mind-body connection gets you in a positive mindset and will help you establish a sense of control and respect for your body, paving a path for your exercise efforts that's sustainable — which, in turn, will lead to achieving your goals.
Step one: Mind your muscle movement
When trying to restore and strengthen this connection after being sedentary, I recommend practicing this progressive muscle contraction/relaxation daily for a week and then several times per week thereafter. This is best done lying down, but you can do it from almost any position as it relies on muscle contractions with very little to no movement.
Begin by focusing your attention in your body, on your breathing. During this exercise, your breath will serve as the link between your mind and muscles.
Inhale as you close your eyes tightly and tighten your jaw by clenching your teeth. Exhale as you release the tension, letting your eyes remain gently closed. Inhale fully into your rib cage and hold your breath, creating tension in your chest, upper back and neck. Exhale to release.
Inhale and squeeze your hands into fists, trying to make contact and create tension in all the muscles of your arms. Exhale to release.
Inhale to contract your glutes and pelvic floor muscles while tightening your abdomen as well. Exhale to release.
Inhale to curl your toes and create tension in all the muscles of your legs. Exhale to release.
Take five additional, long, deep breaths, while your mind rests in awareness of your body's state of total relaxation.
Breathe into good posture
The safety and efficacy of any exercise program is predicated on executing proper form. If your posture is poor and movement is restricted, it'll be difficult to perform almost any exercise safely. So, it's in your best interest to optimize your breathing before beginning or restarting an exercise program.
What does breathing have to do with posture and movement? The short answer is: everything. The shallow, upper-chest-oriented breathing pattern many of us have fallen into reduces the function of our diaphragm, requiring upper-body muscles to compensate as accessory breathing muscles that lift the rib cage during inhalation.
This creates painful, movement-limiting, chronic upper-body tension and poor posture. For more on the biomechanics of proper diaphragmatic breathing, check out my article "Breathe better to move better: Train to breathe like a pro athlete
Step two: Move your ribs while breathing
Regularly practicing breathing better will decrease tension to restore mobility and establish good posture for proper exercise form. Here's a basic way to practice every day:
Sit comfortably in a chair with your hands resting on your legs. Close your eyes. Begin lengthening and deepening your inhalations and exhalations. As you breathe, concentrate on the movement of your rib cage.
Inhale, filling the lowest lobes of your lungs so that your lower ribs externally rotate and expand out to the sides. When you exhale, completely empty your lungs, using core muscles, almost like an abdominal crunch, to move your lower ribs in, back, and down toward your waist.
Repeat this for five to 10 breaths, practicing several times per day.
If you're having trouble getting your ribs to move, place your hands on your lower ribs while you breathe, so that you can guide them in and out under your fingers. You can also try the breathing bridge exercise featured in my recent article on exercises to offset too much sitting
Walk your way to a healthy routine
When establishing an exercise routine, consistency is the key to long-term success. Ideally, exercising regularly needs to become a lifestyle habit akin to toothbrushing. Rather than diving head-first into an overwhelming workout that's too time-consuming and strenuous to sustain, begin by forging an easy-to-accomplish daily walking habit.
Because walking is so accessible, people often discount its benefits, making it one of the most underrated fat-burning, mind-body exercises.
Step three: Establish a walking habit