Being active and exercising on a regular basis is great for physical and mental well-being. However, it isn’t always easy to be consistent. While taking a few days off is unlikely to derail your routine (and may provide beneficial rest days), life often presents its own challenges to being regularly active. Sometimes it’s the result of an injury or illness that lasts a couple of weeks to a month. Or it could be a major life change such as a move or a new job. Regardless of what it is, when it happens we often ask ourselves how long will it take to get back into shape?
Perhaps the most common time when people look to improve fitness levels is after the winter. Indeed, physical activity and exercise patterns typically have a seasonal cycle to them. People are generally more active in the spring and summer than in the winter. This isn’t surprising as many of us pursue activities that are weather dependent. This may include gardening, cycling or playing tennis. As a result, our fitness levels are higher in September than in March.
How long will it take?
Determining how long it will take you to get back into shape depends on a few things. First, it depends on your current fitness levels and what your goal is. Is it to improve your fitness by 10%, swim faster than last year or do your first 10 km run? The greater the difference between your current fitness level and your goal, the longer it will take. Regardless of your goal, the key to improving will be to more than you’re doing now. Or at least doing it differently.
It will also depend on how much time you want to put into your exercise program. Looking at standard running programs can provide some guidance. For example, completing a 5 km (run/walk) will take about six weeks with running three times per week. For a 10 km, common beginner programs are 13 weeks long. And for a marathon, six months is a good estimate.
However, fitness levels will improve noticeably in a much shorter time. Sedentary women who did sprint intervals twice per week for four weeks saw their fitness improve and were able to exercise longer and go faster. But you don’t need to do sprint intervals, as both continuous exercise for 30 minutes, and pick-up sports games four times per week can improve fitness.
If you’re looking for something that takes even less time, try exercise snacks. These are short bursts of exercise of 30 seconds to 2 minutes spread throughout the day. In non-exercisers, three flights of stairs done three times per day, three days per week for six weeks resulted in measurable improvements in fitness.
Planning and Discipline- Keys to Your Success
A key element of success is your goal. This could be running your first 5 km three months from now, getting out with friends to go walking three times per week or improving your swim times from last year. Whatever your goal is, it’s important to have it clearly laid out because your entire plan will be based on it. To help, use the SMART goal-setting method to ensure your goal is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. The SMART method will help you identify exactly what your goal is, how you will know when you have reached it, whether it’s feasible and when you wish to complete it by.
From there, you can develop your plan, or use/modify some of the programs on the Internet such as those listed above for running. However, starting out is usually the easy part of the plan. It’s sustaining the program that tends to be the most challenging. For that, a few tips can help.
While your goal provides you with your motivation, it’s usually planning and discipline that keeps you going. It’s not unusual for motivation to ebb and flow. For example, you may be far more motivated to go for a walk on a sunny warm day than on a cold rainy day.
Make your exercise a priority by building it into your daily routine to keep you disciplined. I commonly schedule my exercise into my daily calendar. Similarly, exercise with a friend, or join an activity or exercise class. This is a great way to keep accountable and receive encouragement. And don’t forget to include rest days and time for recovery between your exercise sessions.
Once you’ve finished outlining your goal and your plan, post it up in a visible location such as the bathroom mirror or on the fridge door. This daily reminder can help keep you focused. And as you start to follow your new plan, you’ll notice the benefits within weeks as your fitness improves and your muscles get stronger.
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