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Healthy living: Getting back to exercise as summer nears

It’s that time of year. As the weather gets warmer and signs of summer begin to appear all around us, we’re thinking about picking up old exercise activities (and perhaps a bottle of self-tanner).

And, with joggers and cyclists filling the roads, and swimming pools opening their gates, who couldn’t avoid the exercise bug? It’s definitely a great time of year to be active and enjoy the sun after experiencing months of cabin fever over the winter.

While it is always good to begin thinking of ways to become more active, there are some precautions you must take when starting back up with any physical activity after a long break. Especially if this occurs as the temperature rises. Doing too much too fast can lead to injury or in some cases illness. By just taking a few precautionary steps, you can help ensure your summer is one filled with both fitness and fun.

Talk to your doctor

It’s easy to think that everything is fine, especially if you were regularly enjoying your activities before your hiatus. However, it’s essential that you talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program (yes, even that leisurely round of golf counts as an exercise program).

The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that you consult your doctor before returning to exercise if you have not exercised for three months or more. It is especially important to speak to your doctor if you suffer from any chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes or arthritis. Your doctor can advise you on the best ways to return to exercise and can offer support in your quest. As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Start slowly

We all know that slow and steady wins the race. But for many of us inner rabbits, it’s hard to hold back. Besides, who wants to start with a run/walk program when you were once in the habit of running 5 to 6 miles a day? But, unless you want to be sidelined with injury for the summer, that’s just what you need to do.

If you were a runner, return by starting with a low-mileage program that includes walking. If you previously played a summer sport, get back into the habit slowly. Aim to work out two to three times per week and keep sessions shorter than 45 minutes for the first two to four weeks. Most importantly, be sure to warm up and cool down properly to protect muscles and joints from injury. As your fitness builds, usually around the six-week mark, you can add more workouts per week and increase the time spent working out. You will know you are ready to progress when your workout routine is no longer challenging.

Don’t get frustrated

Don’t expect to go back to your old personal records right away if you haven’t worked out in a few months.

And don’t be disappointed if exercise seems harder this time around. The human body is adaptive and will usually return to normal after six weeks of modified exercise. Resist the urge to push yourself in the beginning. Trust your body’s signals, such as fatigue, to let you know when you have reached your limit for each session.

Most importantly, do not wait until you are in pain to stop. Stop when you feel your muscles tiring. Pushing yourself past your limits will only result in injury. And who wants to spend summer on the sidelines?

Make a commitment

When you are huffing and puffing doing an activity that used to come easy to you, it’s easy to become frustrated. And, with frustration comes the temptation to quit. Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month.

This will solidify the exercise habit and also take pressure off in the first weeks back as you struggle with deciding whether to go. Or find something to motivate you. For example, if getting in swimsuit shape is your ultimate goal, keep your swimsuit in sight. Seeing your swimwear on a regular basis will act as a constant reminder of what you are trying to achieve.

Also, remember that it takes your body longer to acclimate to the warmer summer climate and doing too much when it is too hot can lead to heat stroke. While it may be enticing to be outside, if you find yourself unable to exercise on days the thermostat rises, avoid risking harm by taking it inside. Or take your exercise program to the water, where it is naturally cooler.

Have fun

Last and most important, have fun. Summer is a time to enjoy the warmer, longer days. And, while it’s easy to get caught up in keeping to a workout routine, remember that summer is also a great time to socialize. Find a friend to work out with. In addition to catching up on the latest news, you can keep each other accountable and on track. And don’t forget, our furry friends also make excellent companions (just ensure they have plenty of water and avoid having them do anything strenuous on hot days).

Be sure to check out the variety of local exercise programs offered in the summer, like those offered at the Hampshire Regional YMCA. There are many activities available for individuals or the entire family. Or, sign up for a local race or softball league. The options are plentiful.

This column was written for the Hampshire County YMCA by board of directors member Lindsay Doak.

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