Fallen Out of a Fitness Routine? Here’s How to Get Your Pre-Pandemic Groove Back

New research suggests that if you need a restart, you’re far from alone.


  • If the momentum and consistency of your workout routine sputtered during the COVID-19 pandemic, new research suggests you’re not alone.

  • The best approach to get back into it is to do so slowly and gradually.

  • At first, just focus on moving again—creating the routine and making it a habit—and then you can start thinking about goals and progress.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, your fitness routine may have been the epitome of consistency and progress. But if that momentum sputtered when everyone’s routines were upended, or you stopped altogether, know that you’re not alone. That’s been a global trend, according to a study in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.

Both increased

depression risk and decreased physical activity affected people of all ages

Researchers from 14 countries looked at nearly 15,000 individuals and assessed changes in mental and physical wellbeing from several questionnaires. They found mental health decreased considerably during lockdowns, nearly tripling to 45 percent compared to early pandemic levels.

Moderate exercise decreased by 41 percent, and the amount of vigorous exercise fell by a similar amount. The effects were higher among people over 70 , who were up to 67 percent less active than previously.

Because of the profoundly negative effects of sedentary behaviour, the researchers are calling inactivity a “pandemic within a pandemic.” That’s especially true since it brings pronounced decreases in mental wellbeing, the study’s lead author, Jan Wilke, Ph.D., researcher in the Department of Sports Medicine at Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany, told Runner’s World.

“Both increased depression risk and decreased physical activity affected people of all ages,” he said. “That was particularly pronounced in people who had been active before the pandemic, but less active during that time.”

In other words, people who got higher levels of exercise before the pandemic were more at risk of feeling unwell and depressed because they were used to having more activity, but that went away when many COVID-19 restrictions were put in place.

“This is understandable, that this group would struggle more,” said Wilke. “For these people, their body is use to getting a regular dose of movement, and when that’s taken away, the body and mind will respond.”

Another issue is that exercise activates the immune system, he added, which is naturally crucial in the midst of a pandemic.

With restrictions in many parts of the world eased, the next step will be to assess whether physical activity goes back to pre-pandemic levels. Wilke said that with more public activity spaces like parks, as well as gyms, becoming populated again, it’s possible that people will restart their former activity habits. Most likely, one of the biggest reasons for the sharp decline was lockdown restrictions that shuttered gyms and even closed some parks, for example.

“However, it may cost work and effort to get the drive again,” he said. “In future pandemics, we should look at this effect as part of public health, and keep activity spaces accessible as long as possible.”

Get moving again, slowly.

For those who’d rather not think about the next pandemic, the focus now should be on that ramp back up. If you’ve fallen out of a fitness routine, the best approach is to get back in slowly, likely at a more gradual pace than you’d expect, according to Carol Mack, D.P.T., C.S.C.S.

She told Runner’s World that it helps to get outside—sunshine is a mood booster, after all, and fresh air and a change of scene are helpful, too—and to get acclimated to movement again before setting big goals. Be kind with yourself, and understand that it’s not about rushing to get back to where you were, but instead, to move in ways that feel nourishing to you now.

“At first, just focus on moving, and establishing a rhythm again,” she said. “If you’ve been more sedentary, you’ll want to focus on creating the routine and making it a habit, and then you can start thinking about goals and progress.”

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