Resuming a fitness program after a bout of ill-health is all about being sensible, according to experts. That means being kind to your body, eating well and, most importantly, getting enough sleep.
“To feel energetic enough to do physical activity, you need to be getting good amounts of sleep and you need to be eating well,” dietitian Aloysa Hourigan said.
Exercise has many proven benefits – from its physical effects on everything from bones to blood vessels to the mental health boost it offers. This means making the effort will almost certainly be worth it.
A good diet will also help ensure adequate intakes of protein, as well as iron, zinc and vitamin C (“which, together, do protect your immune system”, Ms Hourigan said).
According to the Federal Department of Health, adult Australians should aim for 150-300 minutes of moderately intense physical activity every week (that’s 2.5-five hours). We should aim to be physically active most days of the week and do muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days a week.
“Food has a lot to do with it,” Ms Hourigan said. “But you can’t talk about staying well and only talk about food.”
Fitness professional Erica King, the founder of the online Running Divas community, agreed nutrition and sleep came first. Even once the illness was beaten, it was important to take it easy when resuming any exercise program.
“You’ve got to be kind to your body,” she said. “If you had been running 10 kilometres … you would start right back with going to do two kilometres.
She said it was often tempting to get straight back into a full program, particularly for someone who had been training towards a particular goal. But even the keenest fitness fiends should realise they need to go slowly after being unwell.
“Your body is low, your resistance is low and your muscles are weak,” she said. “And you’re definitely, definitely going to make sure that your nutrition strategy is in place.”
Along with basics such as diet, Ms King recommended being mindful of staying warm and aware of the effects of weather changes – and “giving your body a chance to recover, or you can feel a bit defeated”.
Physiotherapist Michelle Bergeron agreed that kindness to your body must come first after a period of minor or moderate ill health.
“It’s time-to-time,” she said. “If you’ve been out for a week, you need to be at least a week getting back [to a full exercise program].”
She also recommended starting with exercise such as walking or cycling before hitting the gym for a full session.
Anyone who has been more seriously ill – such as having cancer – should see a rehab specialist before restarting an exercise program.
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