Getting back on ‘track’ after lockdown

Person stretching

Matt LambertMatt is a WCRF nutritionist who worked as a fitness trainer for ten years. Here he gives us some tips on getting back to exercising safely.

With lockdown gradually easing across parts of the UK, many of us are keen to get back to what we were doing before, whether it was going to the gym, doing a fitness class, or going for a swim.

Lockdown has caused many of us to be less active, whether that is missing out on steps during the commute, walking less due to being inside more, or just spending more time sitting than we perhaps normally would. According to a recent survey, physical activity levels have fallen by a quarter since the lockdown came into effect. This inactivity has probably left a lot of us less fit than we were before.

While we all want to be able to get back to our pre-pandemic routine, it’s important to do so safely. If we try and return to normal too quickly, we run the risk of illness and injury. Being an ex-fitness professional, I have seen first-hand the undesirable effects of going from zero to 100 – from severe muscle soreness, to causing old joint niggles to flare up again.

Safety first

My best bit of advice is to start back slowly, and gradually increase how much exercise you do. Take things a bit easier for the first few weeks so that your body has time to get used to the increased activity. If you have only been doing small amounts of exercise during lockdown, plan to start at 50 per cent of what you were doing before the pandemic. For example, if you previously ran five miles, plan on covering two or two and a half miles at a slower pace.

With a lot of us spending more time sitting during lockdown, unsurprisingly lots of us are experiencing tightness in our shoulders, upper and lower back – all of which may be made worse by poor posture when sat at your laptop or in front of the TV. To help combat this, you may want to spend a few minutes every day doing some light stretching. A good stretch is to lie on your front and push your chest up from the ground, giving yourself a slight back bend until your body resembles a striking cobra. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat.

Keeping your joints supple and mobile is going to be a real benefit – especially when doing more strenuous activity.

The physical activity guidelines in the UK state that all adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderately-intense activity over the week – this means you may sweat, but you are still able to carry on a conversation. Of course the more activity you do over 150 minutes, the better it is for your health. You can build up your activity in small chunks – even blocks of 5–10 minutes all add up! It’s about doing what fits into your day-to-day life.

You may want to create your own personalised activity planner to help you meet the 150 minute target over the week. For example, going for a 20–30 minute walk after lunch on a Monday and spending 10–15 minutes doing some yoga exercises (or exercises using your bodyweight) on Tuesday. Wednesday might be a 20 minute online exercise class. Write down what activity and when you plan to do it – the act of writing it down means you are more likely to stick to it. Our Weight matters guide has a physical activity diary you can use.

Do what you love

If you find an activity you enjoy doing then it won’t feel like a chore and you will be more likely to keep doing it. Building in more walking into your week is a great first step in getting more activity into your day – you can adjust your speed and distance to suit your individual fitness levels and abilities.

Just remember, the more strenuous (intense) the activity you do, the more chance there is that your muscles will be sore after. You can help reduce this by spending 5–10 minutes doing some light stretching as soon as you have finished exercising.