In a Couch-Potato Rut? Time to Break the Cycle!

What was your exercise routine before the pandemic? Maybe you went for regular walks. Maybe you took an exercise class in your senior living community or senior center. Swimming, cycling or tai chi might have been your thing, or maybe you had a personal trainer at the gym.

For many people, their exercise routine ground to a halt as they went into quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many customary exercise activities were off limits at this time. It was unsafe to work out with friends at the gym or pool. A disrupted routine often left exercise at the bottom of their lists.

“Maintaining a regular exercise program is difficult at the best of times and the conditions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic may be making it even more difficult,” cautioned McMaster University kinesiology professor Jennifer Heisz. And, said Heisz, many people report an increase in anxiety and depression, which can demotivate us to be physically active.

In a recent study, Heisz found that while increased anxiety and depression are certainly understandable, given all we’ve been through, this can leave people trapped in a cycle. “Even though exercise comes with the promise of reducing anxiety, many respondents felt too anxious to exercise,” said Heisz. “Likewise, although exercise reduces depression, respondents who were more depressed were less motivated to get active, and lack of motivation is a symptom of depression.”

Heisz and her team offered these tips for breaking that cycle:

  • Adopt a mindset that some exercise is better than none.
  • Lower exercise intensity if you’re feeling anxious.
  • Move a little every day.
  • Break up sedentary time with standing or movement breaks.
  • Plan your workouts like appointments by blocking off the time in your calendar.

What if it’s too hot? 

Just at the point when many of us are vaccinated and venturing out again, here comes the hot weather, which is a time in our area that many people tend to cut back on exercise. This can cause us to gain weight and lose energy—yet another cycle to avoid.

The National Institute on Aging says that high-intensity exercise during hot weather can be dangerous for older adults, but there are alternatives. Work out indoors. As it is safe to do so, go for a mall walk. Check the weather forecast before heading out for outdoor exercise. Drink plenty of fluids, and wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes made of cotton and other natural fabrics, in layers so you can remove clothing as you warm up.

Above all, be aware of signs of heat stroke, which include:

  • Fainting, unconsciousness
  • Confusion, agitation, acting strangely
  • Body temperature higher than 104°
  • Dry, flushed skin, no sweating
  • Very rapid or very slow pulse

Heat stroke is an emergency. Call 911 right away.

Source: IlluminAge reporting on a study by McMaster University, with warm weather tips from the National Institute on Aging

The information in this article is not meant to replace the advice of your health care provider. Talk to your doctor about an exercise plan that’s right for you.