This article is taken from an interview with Rachel and Kelly on Episode 4 of Shout!Podcast. You can listen to their interview here.

In the early days of lockdown we were inundated with options for maintaining our fitness at home, with the voice of Joe Wicks’ live streams ringing out in many a living room. But as the days carried on, some of us lost our motivation to get our trainers on and turned to snacking instead of squatting.

As movement restrictions begin to lift and we start to gain some semblance of normality again, many of us will be thinking about taking steps to reverse the effects a life in lockdown has had on our physical health. From work, socialising, shopping, eating and exercising, there isn’t much that hasn’t been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

On top of this, many of us have spent the last few months leading a largely sedentary lifestyle, so our fitness may not be what it once was. It can feel disheartening that you can’t run as far, lift as much, or balance as well as you once did, so maybe you’ve felt like giving up before you’ve even started. But exercising regularly is so important as it helps reduce the risk of obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease and depression, leaving us feeling energised.

And it’s important to remember you’re not alone in this. You’ve probably heard this word a lot, but we’ve been living through unprecedented times, so try not to compare yourself now to what you were like pre-lockdown, or even to when you were at your peak fitness. The best step is the first step.

Set yourself goals

Ease yourself back in and set yourself reasonable goals to keep your motivation up. You could use the SMART mnemonic to help create meaningful goals for yourself. It stands for the following:

Specific: What is your goal? Make sure it is specific to you. Take for example, you would like to able to run 5k non-stop

Measurable: The goal needs to be measurable. Your measure is the distance, 5k. You could even add a time you wanted to complete the run in. So, you’d like to run or walk 5km in 40 minutes.

Attainable: Make sure you can reach your goal. Set yourself a realistic target. If you go too big too quickly, you might talk yourself out of things before you’ve started. Long term you may have visions of yourself crossing the finish line of the London Marathon but that is a very daunting challenge. Break it down in to manageable chunks. Set your targets on that 5k to start with and go from there.

Relevant: The goals need to personal to you. Could this be something you could continue with your family? Could you document the process in a blog or on your social media, so you can see how far you’ve come? Or tie it into something you love doing, like exploring countryside around your house or working towards a fundraising target.

Time scale: Ensure you give yourself enough time to reach your goal. Break it down into manageable chunks and build from there. Apps like the Couch to 5k are brilliant examples of easing your way in – the first week is eight lots of running for a minute and walking for 90 seconds, gradually increasing with each run. It also gives you good pointers on how to break down your training and how to progress it gradually.

There are other health and wellbeing apps you could browse to aid your exercise. We work with ORCHA, who are a leading health app evaluation company, rating the apps on their clinical assurance, user experience and data protection. You can browse the ORCHA library here.

Build up slowly

It is really important to gradually return to exercise and build up your exercise levels slowly. For example jumping back in at the deep end and aiming to exercise six times a week, when you have done very little over lockdown can leave you at risk of injury. Your muscles, tendons and joints don’t like change. They take time to adapt. Doing too much too quickly can leave you sore and at risk of various soft tissue and bony injuries. You should aim to gradually build up your exercise levels- this includes how often, how hard and how long you are exercising for.

Another aspect to consider for injury prevention is an effective warm up and cool down. The warm up should raise our heart rate and increase the blood flow to our muscles to prepare our bodies for exercising. Cool downs help to lower our heart rate gradually after exercising, they can help reduce the risk of any light headiness or dizziness following exercise and potentially help reduce muscle soreness.

Variety of exercise

It is important that you find a way of exercising that you enjoy. For some people that may be cardio based, such as running, cycling or walking. For others it may be to focus on resistance exercise, whether that be through body weight exercises, resistance machines or free weights. All types of exercising has it’s place and ultimately any form of moving is burning calories.

If you can include a variety of different exercise forms it will give you the most physical benefit and the variety to your workout will help to keep things interesting and keep your motivation levels up.

How well are you eating?

There’s no doubt that a life in lockdown has thrown up some challenges with regards to maintaining healthy eating habits. Limited time to go out and exercise on top of stress eating, boredom and being nearer to our kitchens and snack cupboard temptations can easily result in weight gain. So it’s important to look at what and when you’re eating to also look after your body. You can read more about good food habits to practise here.

Here are some tips for improving your eating habits.

  • Try to stick to structured mealtimes. Not only is routine good for our mental health, but it will also encourage good eating habits.
  • It may not be that you’re eating the wrong food, but just eating too much of it. Portion control is your friend, so maybe consider using smaller plates.
  • The Eat Well Plate is a great tool to help with a balanced diet. It shows what percentage of your meal should be fruit and veg, carbs, proteins, and dairy.
  • You should still be aiming to get five pieces of fruit and veg in to your diet each day. If you are struggling to source fresh products at your supermarket then have a look at frozen or dried options. If you’re not a fan of fruit or veg, look for other ways to get your five-a-day, like adding a spoon of dried fruit to your morning porridge or make a smoothie with frozen berries.
  • Having snacks in the house is half the problem, so if you don’t buy them, the temptation won’t be there. Or at least, try not to buy too many snacks.
  • To avoid wastage, get creative with what ingredients you still have in the house, rather than having to go back to the shops. Websites like Tasty and SuperCook are great for suggesting recipes based on what you’ve got in the house.
  • Sometimes we mistake hunger for thirst. Next time you’re feeling peckish, try drinking a glass of water.
Understanding nutrition

Try to bulk cook and prepare own meals if you can so you know exactly what you are eating. However if you do find yourself buying convenience ready meals it is so important that you understand food labelling, which you find on pre-prepared and pre-packed food, not whole, one-ingredient foods.

Food labelling uses a traffic light system to show how many calories, fats, sugar, salt and carbs there are per serving, using red if it contains a high quantity, yellow medium amount and green a low amount. This can be handy to know to help you make healthier informed decisions. You can read more about understanding the food labelling system here.

Lastly, always check the serving size. You might look at the traffic light system and think it looks okay for a quick meal but sometimes even though it looks like a portion size for one person, it often says serves two and so the traffic light system is actually only for half of the dish. This is an easy one to miss, so make sure you read the label carefully.

Your mental wellbeing

Whether you’re returning to work from furlough, still waiting to come back or have been working all the way through lockdown, it’s natural that the lifting restrictions may lead to feeling mixed emotions. Maybe a member of your family has been shielding and you’re nervous or fearful about them going back out into the world. Perhaps you’re concerned about a second spike and what that might mean for your community. Or maybe you’re looking forward to getting back to a “new normal” with your routine, but have some natural concerns and reservations. You can read more about ways to tackle feelings of anxiety as we come out of lockdown here. You might also be interested in reading about how mindfulness could be just the thing you need to help maintain a sense of peace, and resist the temptation of falling back into old habits of rushing around on autopilot.

If you’re struggling with anything for whatever reason, whether it’s impacting your mental or physical wellbeing, we’re here to support you. Call our Support Line on 0800 389 8820, make an enquiry online or browse our health and wellbeing resources.