Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Cheyenne
Let’s be honest: it’s hard to maintain a workout routine during a global pandemic. When gyms — along with most public spaces — closed in March 2020, most fitness regimens went out the window. Cooped up away from loved ones, many people lost the motivation to work toward their health goals.
But 2021 is a new year. Gyms have reopened, and warmer weather is around the corner, so if you’ve put exercise on the backburner the past year, here’s how to work toward a better you.
Be kind to your body
If your body isn’t used to exercise right now, don’t push your limits. Health coach and owner of Cheyenne-based Wooldridge Fitness, LLC Dustin Wooldridge said going from 0-60 too quickly will only lead to injury, so it’s important to start slow. He suggests aiming for what the Department of Health & Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans says is a healthy amount of exercise per week: 150 minutes. That could mean 30 minutes a day five days a week of moderate exercise, or two 75-minute workouts at a higher intensity — whatever works for your body and your schedule.
“Make sure you’re getting into the gym to meet those requirements, but also being realistic, like ‘OK, do I have time to be there five days, or am I motivated enough?’ Maybe start with just once or twice a week and slowly move toward more so you’re not experiencing burnout or injury,” Wooldridge said.
Wooldridge added that different body types will have to adjust their routines accordingly, and that’s completely natural. Running five days a week is hard on anyone’s body, for example, but individuals who are dealing with obesity experience even more strain because there are additional pounds weighing down the joints and other areas of the body affected during a run.
Another important step when getting into a new workout routine is setting goals, Wooldridge said.
“Ensure that when you do this, start with goals that are specific, measurable, attainable and timely,” he said. “Oftentimes, we jump into fitness goals, and we find ourselves falling short due to lack of motivation or even burnout — we can’t meet the demands on our body.”
An example of an attainable goal, he said, would be for a 300-pound client to lose 10 pounds by walking five times a week over the course of three months. Many clients might want to lose more per month, but if you push yourself past your limit to reach a higher pounds-per-month goal, you could be doing your body more harm than good.
Approach health goals holistically
Getting into the swing of a fitness routine is much easier when you look at it as a lifestyle change, rather than just a way to shed some pounds, Wooldridge said.
“Getting started, it’s helpful to maintain a focus that really fosters an importance around improving your overall health, not just physical health,” he said. “So, for example, there are other areas like mental health, emotional health, social health, intellectual, and even occupational and spiritual health. You increase your odds of reaching your goals by developing a new routine that spans throughout the entirety of your lifestyle. If you focus on one area, you’ll tend to burn out more quickly.”
Jill Lovato, the owner of Cheyenne-based Blossom Yoga, is a big proponent of this holistic approach to health.
“Yoga is a whole-person practice, so there’s a mental and emotional component, and then there is the physical component, and both are important for a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “Yoga does two things for the physical body in the span of a few practices: it builds muscular strength — and that’s lean muscle, so it’s not like bodybuilding — and it also increases flexibility, both of which are important just for daily living. It’s the difference between shoveling snow and being OK after, and then shoveling snow and throwing out your back.”
In addition to the physical benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and improving sleep over time, Lovato said yoga can combat mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Yoga is a mindfulness practice rooted in methodical breathing and meditative movement, so Lovato said she recommends it for people who are combating the negative physical, mental and emotional effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Anyone interested in using yoga to begin their post-2020-slump workout routine, Lovato said, should pick a foundational class. If the individual has never taken yoga before, it’s important to seek out instructors who are specifically teaching beginners or offer modified positions for beginners during more general classes.
For those who would rather not join an in-person class until they’re vaccinated, Lovato said her studio offers livestreamed classes, as well.
Asked how yoga can help the physical body after the initial stress of the pandemic, Lovato said it’s important to recognize how adapting to more time at home affected the body.
“Since we have been home a lot, our movement has changed,” Lovato said. “When we’re confined to our homes because of the pandemic — and now winter — there are a few places in the body that we form bad habits. From sitting a lot, it weakens the belly. Our posture changes, and with those postural changes, we experience back pain, we experience tension … so while yoga isn’t a ton of movement like cardio or like running, it does relieve chronic tension.”
Lovato added she thinks as it gets safer and more people come back into yoga studios, they’ll also receive the much-needed mental and emotional support of practicing alongside other individuals who are working toward their own health goals.
Making healthier choices outside exercise
Wooldridge said the most important aspects of every holistically healthy lifestyle are sleep, activity and food. Your body needs fuel to be active, and that fuel comes from a restful sleep and healthy food. If you don’t get enough rest and don’t eat well, your muscles won’t recover as easily from the new strain you’re putting on them by exercising.
That’s why Wooldridge suggested, along with sleeping enough hours to feel rested every night, adding nutritional meals into your daily routine. Although he’s not a licensed nutritionist, his fitness education has taught him that one of the easiest ways to adapt to a more nutritious lifestyle is to plan ahead before going to the grocery store. If you have a detailed list with specific fruits, vegetables, grains, etc. to buy, he said you’re less likely to purchase items that aren’t beneficial to your health.
“Often we get to the grocery store and we allow our appetite to lead us,” Wooldridge said. “We see and smell things that are tasty, so just being able to have a plan and sticking to it, you’re not buying all those items that are less healthy.”
Wooldridge said everyone working on a new fitness routine should do their own research to decide what natural foods should be added to their pantry. Everyone should probably be eating more fruits and vegetables, he said, but there’s a way to incorporate these ingredients into meals you already love — it might just take a little creativity.
He added that like exercise, nutrition is all about being kind to yourself. There will be days when you want to have ice cream, for example, and Wooldridge said that’s OK. Everyone should indulge in the foods they love, but they should pay attention to proportion and frequency.
“Set yourself aside those days where you can give yourself leeway,” he said. “So psychologically you know ‘today is my cheat day’ and allowing yourself that psychological break, that will hopefully encourage and keep you going, rather than feeling overwhelmed. You plan for those.”
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