Rediscovering Fitness: What My Personal Journey Taught Me

A middle-aged couple on a hike.

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Growing up, I remember my dad announcing on many occasions, “When I was your age, I could do … (insert physical/sport task here).” Like many of us, we recall our former physical selves and long for what use to be. But why is this a distant memory? What changes in lifestyle did we allow to wind up out of shape, in pain and otherwise physically unfit?

Reflecting on my childhood, I realize how easy staying in shape was for me. I played select soccer and had multiple soccer practices a week for an hour and half, plus games or tournaments on weekends. I ran around at recess or had exercise build into my day with PE class. Apart from some routine chores, I was not responsible for grocery shopping, laundry, paying bills, or otherwise caring for kids.

Now that I am a middle-aged adult with two young kids, I have gained a new understanding of how easy it is to slip out of the peak condition of our youth. Unfortunately, to regain your fit self, there are no short cuts or secret drinks you can consume. I do, however, have some advice: Find something you enjoy.

My fitness activities have greatly evolved over the past few decades. I left soccer behind in high school when I went to college and therefore my peak fit self. I transitioned to going to a gym for exercise, something otherwise foreign to me. Lifting weights with friends became the focus, but I had ample time to pick up other hobbies to help maintain fitness. I began cycling and doing long distance rides, hiking up steep mountain trails and other intermittent activities. Though my workouts changed, I still had more than enough time in my life to maintain regular workouts and therefore some level of fitness.

a bicycle rider
rear view of man hiking up a forest trail

The trend of odd hobbies for exercise along with routine gym visits for weightlifting continued through graduate school and after graduation. I was continuing to get physical activity through hobbies and sports. I was hiking every week up mountain slopes, going to a rock-climbing gym, CrossFit gyms, and biking regularly. I never thought twice about needing to stay “in shape.”

This concept changed drastically after my wife gave birth to our daughter in 2019.

I tried to continue going to a CrossFit gym, but this was short lived. With the high expense and lack of attendance, I cancelled my membership as I could not justify maintaining it. I was determined to continue hiking, but the backpack carrier went severely underused. I tried to build a home gym, but I could find very little motivation to work out on my own in a basement. I was stuck. I was no longer getting my fitness through fun activities because many of those activities were not kid friendly, or they were so much extra work to prepare for that I simply stopped trying.

Two kids and four years without routine exercise later, I felt out of shape. I was still physical with yard work, lifting and playing with my kids, but I had stopped pushing or challenging myself.

Through the past few years without routine physical activity, I have realized what does and does not work for me. I cannot motivate myself to do cardio or high intensity exercise. I cannot maintain a workout routine that I don’t enjoy

As a physical therapist, I have also witnessed this consistently with my patients.

Working out is the same as dieting. You might be able to hold yourself to a diet to lose weight for a period, but it is very unlikely you will stick to the diet forever. It is difficult to muster up the motivation to continue. The only physical fitness routines or activities I see succeed long term for myself and my patients are ones that people enjoy doing. This can take many different shapes. It could be walking with a friend routinely, which is used to talk and catch up. It could be an intermural sport such as soccer or pickleball. Some people need an exercise class that meets regularly such as water aerobics or CrossFit. 

In order to return to a life of fitness, you first need to figure you what drives you. What will keep you motivated to continue tomorrow, a week from now and five years from now?

If you are unable to think of anything you might be interested in, don’t be afraid to try something new. Look at what gyms might be around you and what classes or programs they might offer. Look around your community and talk with friends about activities they might enjoy. The pickleball courts at my gym are always full of people of all ages. You can also draw on past experiences of sports you might have enjoyed when you were younger. There are adult leagues in soccer, basketball, tennis, volleyball and likely others.

two middle aged couples compete on the pickleball court

My last piece of advice: start slow! Whatever you choose to get back into, remember your muscles, tendons and ligaments have not been stressed and they do become weaker and more susceptible to injury. If you get back out on the soccer field, don’t play at your highest intensity for several weeks straight. Your body needs time to develop the muscle and tendon strength to withstand the amount of force needed for sprinting and changing direction quickly. 

The return to sport after a period of inactivity is very susceptible for injury. The brain feels you are still 20 years old, but the body cannot match what the brain thinks it can handle. Give yourself time and grace to build back the strength you have lost.

For some, this idea of returning to activity is already compounded with pain or injury. To this I say, seek help or seek different activities. If you have not done so, see a physical therapist or sports medicine physician to have your musculoskeletal pain evaluated and develop a plan to overcome the physical barriers. There is no time like the present to seek help for self-care. Your medical team has tools to help improve range of motion, strength, and pain levels to progress you back to the activities you love.

stand up paddleboarding

Staying fit as we get older can seem daunting or impossible. Our lives get so full and it is easy to let our physical activity sleep. I too have fallen victim to the time or financial barriers many of us face. Getting fit or returning to a lifestyle of activity is a choice. In order to make this choice, you must first ask yourself “Why?” … Why is this important? … Why now? 

Once you have established the “why,” you need to figure out the how. The journey can be hard and there is a little trial and error to find the right “how,” but I can assure you, it is worth it. 

It is worth it for your physical and your mental health. 

You can do it!

Start your physical therapy journey today.

As physical therapists, we know the importance of movement for overall health and well-being. From injury recovery to achieving optimal performance, our passion is to help every patient reach their goals and live an active, pain-free life. Get started with PT today!

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