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Health & Wellness

Restarting Exercise After a Break

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Whether you were injured, caught up in the demands or your career or in raising a family, fitness may have fallen to the bottom of your to-do list for a period of time.

Now you’re ready to begin an exercise routine, but wondering where to start. Sarah Powers, fitness director at Cal-a-Vie Health Spa in Vista, California, who coaches men and women of all ages, has some tips.  

Chat with your health-care provider.  Generally, neither age nor inactivity will prevent you from starting an exercise program. Still, if you’ve been sedentary for a while, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before you begin a new exercise regimen. That’s especially true, as the National Institute of Aging points out, if you’ve had hip or back surgery, you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, heart disease or arthritis or you’re experiencing new symptoms like dizziness or shortness or breath.1

Consider a couple of sessions with a personal trainer. A trainer, at a local health club, community center or senior center, can help assess your fitness level, provide an introduction to the proper use of equipment that might be unfamiliar, and offer helpful tips on everything from the right pace and incline for you on the treadmill to the proper posture and weights for tricep kickbacks. He or she can also map out a regimen that includes four pillars of a well-rounded fitness program: endurance, strength, balance and flexibility.   

Start with small goals and low-intensity exercises. “You don’t want to get overwhelmed or injured by jumping into a program that’s too rigorous,” says Powers. “Instead, begin by building a fitness foundation. The first couple of weeks you might take a 20-minute walk on flat surfaces, then begin adding some hills and inclines into the walk and increasing your pace.” 

Work at the level of exertion that’s right for you. Whether you’re walking the mall or the park, pedaling on a stationary bike or following the moves in a Zumba class, you’ll want to work at a safe but effective intensity level. Powers says that what trainers call “the talk test” is a reliable guide. If you can barely get a word out while you’re exercising, ease up. On the other hand, if you can chat easily about the latest plot twists in your favorite show or a recent family visit, you’ll want to push yourself a little harder.

To stay motivated, measure your progress. Wearable fitness trackers or smartphone apps can give you the motivation to, literally, go the extra mile or half mile. Charting your exercise and physical activity with a weekly log can also be a way to monitor progress and celebrate success. The Go4Life campaign from the National Institute of Aging offers a free Exercise & Physical Activity guide that includes detailed exercise instructions, with photos; tip sheets, and both online and printable activity logs. You can download the PDF at   


  1.   Exercise and Physical Activity, Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute of Aging at NIH, page 20

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