The hardest part of getting in shape is starting. That’s why being consistent with whatever you choose to do is more important than speed or strength. It’s kind of a “use it or lose it” thing (and that’s not just glib saying, it’s an actual physiological fact).
If you want to get technical about it, it’s called sarcopenia (or age-related muscle loss). Long story short: skipping your regular workout has greater consequences as you age, starting in your 40’s. Like all things growing older, your body becomes less capable of, in this case, building muscle causing you to lose about 1% of your muscle mass a year (you can read all about sarcopenia here).
What does that mean exactly?
Well, it means that taking an extended break from exercise, particularly resistance exercise, makes it harder to regain your former strength. In terms of your long-term health and fitness, being consistent is far better than being super fast or strong at certain points.
This was most noticeable for me after an ankle injury sidelined my trail running routine. Having spent my 20’s and 30’s playing ultimate frisbee, I frequently took extended breaks during the off season, knowing I could regain my former fitness relatively quickly and easily.
Not so after months off of running. Starting back up again felt like I was back at square one (or even worse because now I was nursing a grumpy ankle back into shape). This was a lot different than my previous experience returning to sport. It was much, much harder and as such, my motivation to suffer through it was low.
So what can you do to maintain your active lifestyle?
#1: Preventative Care — Include stability exercises in your workout routine to help prevent minor injuries. For me, that means doing a series of ankle strengthening exercises so a minor misstep on the trail doesn’t turn into a major injury requiring physiotherapy.
#2: Stick to Your Routine — Create a fitness routine and STICK TO IT! If you are thinking about skipping your daily run because of weather, ask yourself if it’s worth the setback to sit around in your fuzzy jammies instead of just pushing through the next 30 minutes.
#3: Prepare for Success — Set yourself up for success by blocking off time in your schedule, and preparing for your workouts the night before. On my way back from injury when my motivation was extremely low, I even considered sleeping in my running clothes to eliminate every possible barrier to getting out there and running.
#4: Have a Back-Up Plan — Create a list of substitute activities for when injury or illness prevent you from being able to do your regular workout. For me, it means going for power walk for an hour instead of my regular 30 minute run. Is it the same? No, but it’s better than not doing anything at all.
#5: Change It Up — Prevent boredom from becoming a problem by having a variety of activities that you do. If you’re a trail runner/hiker, like me, consider trying one of Dana Pieper’s Move of the Week workouts on your off days (you can find the complete list here).