How to Restart an Exercise Routine While in Quarantine

We’re now nine months (or is 10 years?) into the COVID-19 pandemic, and if you’re anything like us, you’re still learning new routines, including exercise. Or maybe you’ve understandably lost motivation to exercise like you used to.

If you’re looking to recommit to your fitness routine, good news: Studies have shown that behavior change is more successful with a major life change, such as perhaps...a global pandemic. The NIH calls it habit discontinuity, and we’ve seen it play out in 2020. The British Journal of Sports Medicine analyzed Google Trends data in the months following initial lockdown and found that despite obvious challenges to keeping an active lifestyle (for example, gym closures), there were increases in and engagement with physical activity. When everyone’s life turned upside-down, people went searching for how to stay or become active.

But what if the pandemic has led you to adopt only unhealthy habits, like drinking an extra glass of wine and midnight doom-scrolling? That’s when it might be time to hit the restart button. Here are some tips to spark an exercise-habit intervention.

Discover your habit tendency to build a customized approach. First, take the Four Tendencies Quiz by Gretchen Rubin. She argues that we each fall into one of four categories: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger or Rebel. Once you know your type, you can design an approach to maintaining a habit that will click best with you.

Assemble your squad. This tip is extra critical for Obliger types, but all of us could benefit from the added support of a community. This could mean making a “fitness pod” with a couple friends, or pairing up for socially distanced runs. Chris Perrin, trainer and owner of Cut Seven, builds regular team-based challenges into the studio’s programming for exactly this reason. “Get a team, a group of accountability partners who are going to show up for you,” he says.

Mentally reframe exercise as play time. Kasia Galica, a certified personal trainer, yoga and Kinstretch instructor and FRC mobility specialist, offers the important reminder that exercise should be fun: “I got into roller skating this summer because it was a challenge but also a fun rush!”

Design a simple ritual to transition between parts of your day, including your exercise time. One of the low-key annoying things about working from home is that all the boundaries and structure we once had for our day have melted away. You have to build them back in. Changing your outfit, throwing on music you love or calling a friend to join you virtually are just a few ways Galica suggests to take that first step and transition from work mode to exercise mode, or from family time to “me time”. 

Go outside and switch up your scenery. Not only is outdoor exercise safer during Covid, it also has been shown to offer a host of mental health benefits, improving mood and self-esteem. The DMV area has a ton of outdoor fitness options for winter.

Ease into it with long walks. If the group fitness class isn’t your jam, or you need to isolate a bit more, start with walking. “Long walks with no real goal or destination are so therapeutic,” says Galica. Take your favorite podcast or audiobook with you as a companion.

Try some competition. If you’re motivated by external expectations, this idea may work for you: get a group of 5-10 friends together virtually, and each chip in $50 for a one-month fitness challenge. You can all do the same challenge, such as hitting 10,000 steps a day on Fitbit, or each pursue your own goal. On the honors system (or with selfie proof!), track your workouts in a shared Google Sheet. Whoever sticks to their program splits the pot. If everyone sticks to the program, everyone keeps their money. If everyone flops, the pot goes to charity. This approach is a fun way to keep you wanting to “win” again next month, too.

Embrace technology. Sometimes a little external validation is helpful. “It doesn't have to be a Whoop or Apple Watch, but something as simple as a pedometer will motivate you,” says Perrin. “It's funny how quickly exercise can become a game where you want to continuously beat your high score.” As Dr. Nicky Ridgers from Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition explains, using such a device can “raise awareness of current activity levels in relation to physical activity guidelines”. In other words, the more you know, the more you can focus on improvement.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. “If you feel stuck or frustrated, consider hiring a professional to help you,” says Galica. “Most people plateau because they don't have a real plan of progression. Doing the same thing every day is not just boring, but not effective. You don't need new equipment or gym access to progress or make things challenge your body.”

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