You’ve got your exercise routine down – you’re being really dedicated and seeing progress. Then your life changes: You get a new job, welcome a new grandchild, or buy a new house.
Even good transitions in your life can throw a wrench into your exercise routine – or make it difficult to get started in the first place. Add in arthritis pain, and it’s even tougher to maintain motivation to exercise. Research shows that life transitions, particularly those relating to illness or injury, can cause people to stop working out temporarily, and in many cases, permanently.
That can be especially true as you grow older. A study by Flinders University in Australia found that the number one reason older adults stopped exercising was because of physical ailments or painful joints – even though they knew physical activity would ultimately reduce their pain.
If you’re tempted to stop working out, take the advice of Shannon Mihalko, PhD, an associate professor in the health and exercise science department at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., who has designed exercise programs for people with arthritis.
Check your expectations. Before you even lace up your gym shoes, think about what you want to accomplish. “Being realistic is particularly crucial if your circumstances have recently changed,” says Mihalko. If taking care of kids or grandkids is eating into exercise time, then set a small goal you know you can accomplish – walking for 10 to 15 minutes – and gradually bump up the time after a few weeks. Always talk to your doctor or physical therapist first to make sure your plan is right for you.
Shift your point of view. Some transitions – starting a new job and working longer hours, for example – will be temporary. Keep that in mind and do what you can for now. Other transitions – such as being diagnosed with arthritis – mean you have to make permanent changes. “It can actually catapult you to action – it’s all how you look at things,” says Mihalko. “Tell yourself, ‘Now I know what I’m dealing with. I can actually do something about it by increasing my physical activity levels. I do have control over the situation.’”
Get with a group. The truth is, making exercise a priority – even during a busy life transition – is what will keep you working out. Exercising with a group can help. “You’re getting constant positive feedback, both from your instructor and from the group. And it fosters a 'we’re in it together' attitude, which helps you focus less on your own problems,” Mihalko explains. The Arthritis Foundation offers group programs in land-based exercise, aquatic exercise and tai chi. Call your local Arthritis Foundation office for more information.