How to Break the Streak of Not Exercising


For many of us, 2020 has been…a lot. When the new normal feels anything but, something has to give. Work, family obligations, or self-care may have gotten bumped down a few notches on the to-do list. While some people are using quarantine to up-level their fitness routines (and document each morning run or streaming HIIT class on social media), for others, “it’s complicated.” Taking an occasional break from working out is healthy. But if your break is due to a lack of motivation or a general feeling of “why bother?” you may need to dig a little deeper to rekindle your relationship with your running shoes. Just in time for your New Year’s resolution-making, we offer some tips to help you get your workout groove back.

There are good reasons to take a break from exercising. If you’ve been nursing an overuse injury from repetitive motions, a pause can give your joints time to heal. If you’ve been saddled with extra responsibilities due to the pandemic (such as Zoom school monitor), you may simply not have enough hours in the day to keep up your routine. Or maybe you’re simply too anxious to enjoy even those activities that used to be pleasurable.

Whatever caused your slump, it’s good to know the difference between taking care of yourself and copping out. If you’re avoiding exercise because you’re too anxious (about the Coronavirus or politics, to name just a few of many stressors), you’re missing out. Exercise is one of the most effective remedies for anxiety and depression. It’s cheaper than therapy and in some cases, you may feel the results faster.

If time management is the issue, think about the classic flight attendant’s suggestion about putting on your oxygen mask before helping others. If you’ve carved out time for exercise, you’ll be better positioned to take the rest of the day’s challenges and aggravations in stride. If that means setting the alarm 30 minutes earlier so you have a block of uninterrupted time for yourself before anyone else in the household is up, do it.

Another way to end a workout drought is to find an accountability partner. That could mean scheduling a virtual workout with a friend, whether it’s a live-stream exercise class over Zoom or a previously recorded session that you can take together, apart. Or commit to a physically distant stroll, run, or bike ride.

So much is different these days, from the way we shop, learn, and work, that exercise might look different as well. Instead of an intense barre class, a weight workout at the gym, or a Pilates workout in a studio, incorporate movement into your routine whenever you have the chance. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park at the edge of the lot and get some steps in, or march in place while you’re brushing your teeth or waiting for on hold with customer service. It’s not the same, but if it gets your heart rate up and helps work the kinks out of your muscles, it counts. If you have a partner, try a Zoom salsa or ballroom dance class for your next at-home date night.

If you have kids who are restless from distance learning, make a family dance party a regular event in your house, or take walks in the neighborhood at lunch. If you’ve always exercised primarily because of the vanity payoffs (looking a certain way and being able to fit into favorite items of clothing), you may need to refine your motivation now that we’re living in elastic waist pants and rarely leaving the house. Think about how moving your body at regular intervals makes you feel, not just how it makes you look. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to pick up your groceries without throwing your back out? Or to be able to keep up with your kids on bike rides? Or how about just moving with ease throughout the day?

Set small, realistic goals to set yourself up for success, not failure. Can you find 20 minutes in your day to exercise? Whether you find those elusive minutes first thing in the morning, at lunchtime, or after dinner, 20 minutes is an accessible chunk of time. Try to get moving at least three times per week. If you fall short of that goal, perhaps you’ve managed to get in at least one or two exercise sessions. Something is better than nothing. If you find you can get in three bouts of exercise, you’re well on your way to forming a new habit. Over time, increase the duration and intensity of your workouts.

Over the course of the coming year, you may find yourself on the verge of another exercise rut. The lure of the couch is powerful. Don’t give in. Instead, think about what has worked for you in the past when you’ve struggled with consistency. Double down on those tactics, whether it’s treating yourself to new workout clothes or gear or compiling a killer playlist on Spotify. Why not keep a running gratitude list to take note of how you feel when you workout? Not only is exercise good for you, but it also makes you feel good. Breaking the streak of not working out is an accomplishment that can spill over into other areas of your life, from learning a new skill to saving for a vacation (that is when we travel again).

Alison Manheim
About the Author

Alison Manheim

Alison is a writer and Pilates instructor based in Santa Monica, California. Her Pilates practice has been a springboard to a brand new career as a fitness model and commercial actor at age 50+.


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