How to get active in January – and avoid getting injured

If your New Year’s resolution is to get fitter, we’ve got seven tips to make it a fun, year-round habit

It’s the new year and maybe your resolution is to get more active, but it’s been months or even years since you’ve done any regular exercise.

The latest surveys show that fitness is the top new year’s goal for 2024, but almost half of resolutions don’t even make it to the end of January.

So if you do want to clamber off the sofa and get moving again, where do you start, how do you turn it into a regular habit and how do you avoid injury? We’ve got the best advice from the experts.

An older man and woman wearing hats and walking clothing, both smiling and looking happyCredit: Shutterstock / Perfect Wave
Getting active really can make your life happier

There are countless benefits of getting more active. It can help you live longer, strengthen your heart, boost your brain power and even improve your sex lifeNew research has suggested that just 22 minutes of brisk exercise a day can undo the damage of a sedentary lifestyle.

Regina Giblin, a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, says: “This research supports previous findings that show the negative effects of long periods sitting down and the positive impact of exercise.

“Being active can help you control your weight, reduce your blood pressure and improve your mental health.”

So the message is to get up off the sofa or out of your chair and start moving. But if you are starting from scratch where do you begin and how can you do this safely?

How to get back into exercise

Think about what activity is best for you

Christine Simms, is a physiotherapist, Pilates instructor and founder of the Mind-Body Guide. She says its wise to be honest with yourself before you leap into a new form of exercise, whether it’s walking, running, going to the gym or signing up with a Pilates or yoga class.

She tells Saga: “First ask yourself what does getting active look like for me? Is it that you want to move more and spend less time sitting down or are you wanting to start a new challenge or return to an old activity?”

Be realistic about what you can do

Whatever you decide, it’s vital to be honest about your abilities.

“Often people have unrealistic expectations of themselves. It’s all very well being 21 in your head, but the reality of joint replacements and long-term health conditions might be a barrier and you don’t want to set yourself up to fail from the start,” says Simms.

“Is the activity you have in mind realistic from where you are now in your current state of health,” says Simms.

“Can you visualise yourself doing this activity as you are now? If the answer is a resounding yes, then give it a go. If you’re unsure and have an underlying health condition, then ask a relevant health professional for advice.”

She says age is no a barrier to fitness, in her Pilates classes most of her clients are in their 70s and 80s and the oldest is 92.

7 tips on how to get back into exercise

How to get active and avoid common mistakes

James Staring is the founder and lead fitness coach at Fit to Last Personal Trainers. He says that getting moving is all about being motivated.

“Much of preparing to become active on a regular basis is about making it as easy as possible for yourself,” he says.

“The easier it is for you to be active, the easier it’ll be for you to carry on. The more you carry on, the more motivated you become. And the more motivated you become, the better your results will be.”

With that in mind, here are some more tips to help you get moving again and create a fun, regular habit that will last year round.

1. Choose an activity you enjoy

Dance in the kitchen or get out in the garden to get moving

It sounds obvious, but both experts say that some people try to start a sport or activity they don’t enjoy.

Simms says: “Choose something that you want to do for yourself, not because you’ve been told it will be good for you, even if that was by a health professional. If you’re not doing it for yourself then you’re less likely to maintain it.

“So spend some time being creative and curious about what the exercise or activity might look like. Even housework, gardening, dancing in the kitchen, or repeatedly going up and down stairs counts as exercise.”

Staring agrees: “If you’re not keen on going to the gym, then don’t. If you’re interested in playing tennis, dancing or swimming, consider taking lessons. Choosing an exercise you enjoy will also make it so much easier for you to remain active on a regular basis.”

2. Set a goal that will improve your life

Make your life better through exercise

The weather in January is rarely good and the nights are long. It’s a tough time of year to begin a new exercise habit.

Staring says: “Starting a new fitness regime in the depths of the winter can be challenging. There may be times you feel you want to skip plans you’ve made to be active. Instead on a cold dark night you may want to stay at home and within your zone of comfort.”

He advises setting yourself a goal that will allow you measure your progress and encourage you even more.

“Ensure you have clarity on what you will gain from achieving your specific goal,” he adds. “It may be that if your goal is building your strength, the benefit will being able to remain independent and complete day-to-day tasks yourself without needing to rely on others.

“It could be improvements on your health which will then improve your quality of life. Be clear on how your life will become better when you achieve your goal.”

He says remembering why you are getting up in the dark or leaving the house when it’s raining will help you stay focused and stick to your plans .

“Keep your eye on the prize,” he advises.

3. Join a class

Exercise with others to stay motivated

Simms says that for many people joining an exercise class – such as a Pilates or yoga group – can help keep you motivated and improve your social life.

“For many people, the habits are established when being in the company of others, so partnering up with someone else can keep you accountable,” she says.

“Some of my in-person Pilates clients say that seeing everyone in class keeps them motivated and also, they book their places in advance which means they are more likely to make it a long-lasting habit.”

If you have little time or struggle to get out on dark evenings then online classes can be a great option as you can exercise at a time that suits you.

4. Don’t over-commit

Keep your plans realistic

Staring advises that it’s important to be realistic when you sign up for a new class or commit to an actitvity challenge.

He says: “Decide how much time you can consistently commit to being active. If you currently don’t commit any time at all, aim to give yourself a gentle start and then build on it.

“People sometimes tend to over-commit by making a massive change, i.e. planning to go to the gym five times a week when they currently don’t go at all. Think about how much time and when you can commit to being active, week after week.”

Make it work for you

Staring says it’s good to consider when will be the best time to do your chosen activity. If you struggle to leave the house on a dark winter’s evening, for example, plan to do your chosen activity during the day.

“Then book the time into your calendar and make it a non-negotiable appointment,” he suggests.

5. Start small

Don’t push yourself to hard

As a physiotherapist Simms says she regularly treats people who have injured themselves because they have done too much too soon.

She says: “If you haven’t exercised for months, swooshing into an hour-long class will likely put excessive demands on your body and that’s when you’ll suffer afterwards.

“This is when, as a physiotherapist, I see flare ups of old problems. Initially you might say to yourself, ‘no pain. no gain’, but there really is a better way. Perhaps do half of the class to start with.”

Simms also says try not to be too competitive, and don’t expect to keep up with everyone else as they may have been doing that activity for a while.

“Don’t be competitive with yourself either – if you have always set yourself high standards then put the brakes on and make a plan to avoid overdoing it before you start,” she says.

6. Get professional help

Consider getting an instructor

If you want to start something you’ve never tried before, its worth getting professional help.

“With the help of an instructor you’ll learn a lot faster,” advises Staring.

“Having the ability to complete your activity well will help you get the most out of the time you spend doing it. Of course, getting professional assistance will be an investment in yourself. If you’re on a tight budget, this can be more manageable as part of a group e.g. group classes instead of one-on-one lessons.

“Also, you can seek professional help to get started initially. Then, perhaps, once you’ve learned the fundamental skills for your chosen activity you can proceed independently.”

7. Get kitted out

The right gear can make a big difference and doesn’t have to be expensive

Some activities need very little specialist equipment, but Staring advises that whatever you decide to do make sure you have the appropriate clothing or kit so you can do it confidently and comfortably.

“You don’t necessarily need to splash out on the most expensive kit,” he says.

“This is about having the essential items you need. So, for example, if you want to take up walking regularly its good to have a decent waterproof to keep you warm and dry if you get caught in the rain. Having appropriate kit for your activities will help to encourage you to continue doing them.”

What to buy

We’ve got a host of guides to help you find the best gear for you. Check out our guides to the best yoga mats, best gym leggings, best sports bras, best hiking socks and best swimming caps.

If running is your resolution, then we’ve got a guide on how to choose the best running shoes.

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her

Updated:

Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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