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Before the coronavirus pandemic, the CDC estimated that just 1 in 4 adults were getting the recommended amount of physical activity. This number has likely increased, as many of us have spent more time in our homes due to Covid-19 protocols.

We know the health benefits of exercise, but what happens to our bodies when our activity levels plummet? At a minimum, we lose progress and endurance, become stiff, and gain weight. At Yale Medicine, experts have seen patients gain up to 30 pounds throughout the pandemic.

Even more seriously, the CDC warns that lack of physical activity leads to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

But with warmer temperatures and longer days, we have the chance to become active and start exercising once more. Not only are parks and gym facilities reopening across the country, but recreational sports leagues are also beginning again.

Before signing up for a sport or diving back into working out after quarantine, make a plan to do so safely. 

How to start exercising again safely 

Be honest about your physical condition

Before starting an exercise routine, examine your body for any changes that may have gone unnoticed over the past year. Take stock of those changes and be honest about the shape you’re in. This might be emotionally difficult, but evaluating your condition and being honest about it is critical to returning to activities safely. 

If you’re not sure how to evaluate your physical condition, you can visit a doctor for a physical fitness test. These typically consist of a series of activities to measure cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, and muscular endurance. 

Alternatively, the Mayo Clinic offers an easy way to measure your physical condition in the comfort of your own home. The at-home evaluation includes:

  • Measuring your at-rest heart rate
  • A running or jogging test
  • Pushup and sit-up tests
  • Sit-and-reach test
  • Body composition calculation

If you have goals, make them realistic

Should you feel that setting a goal is important for your return to exercise or sports, make it realistic. If you take on too much too soon, you run the risk of injuring yourself. 

One of the best ways to set a goal is to make it measurable, specific, and time-bound. Doing so will help you focus your efforts and create a structured plan that will help you achieve the goal. For example, running a 5K this summer is a realistic goal. It’s measurable (distance), specific (running a 5K), and time-bound (by summer). 

To stay fully motivated, consider partnering up with a friend or group of people working toward the same goal.

Further, it might be helpful to start a “habit loop” that will help you stay motivated throughout the process. According to MIT researchers, a neurological loop – a “habit loop” – consists of a cue, routine, and reward. 

Simply put, you need to identify a cue that will trigger a behavior, routine, and reward. For example:

  • The cue: Setting your running shoes next to the front door
  • The behavior: Going on a brisk walk
  • The reward: A healthy snack

After a while, the habit becomes intrinsic and starts to be associated with endorphins.

Start slowly

Remember that as you return to activity, you need to ease back into it, regardless of the type of exercise. You should start at a lower point than you left off and work gradually up to your previous level. One easy way to determine your starting point is by calculating your Perceived Exertion

By monitoring your effort using a scale of 6 (no effort) to 20 (maximum effort), it becomes easy to adjust accordingly. These numbers are based on the physical sensations experienced during physical activity (e.g. increased sweating, breathing rate, and heart rate). Typically, a rating between 12 and 14 suggests a moderate level of effort.

Take care to avoid injury

When returning to exercise or sports after an extended period of time, it’s easy to injure yourself. Here are some easy ways to avoid injury:

  • Always complete a warm-up, including dynamic stretches. Move through a variety of exercises (such as lunges or jumping jacks) to properly warm the body before activity. Incorporating stretching or mobility work along with balance and strengthening makes for a well-rounded warm-up.
  • Eat well. Make sure your diet consists of lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables to ensure that you will have the required energy. In addition, be sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Engage in active recovery. Once your activity is complete, take the time to cool down properly. This could be foam rolling, a brisk walk, light strength training, or an easy bike ride – anything that keeps you moving.
  • Rest. Rest days are crucial for keeping the body healthy and avoiding extra physical stress. Not only are muscles taxed by exercise, but overexertion could trigger an immune response such as a cold.
  • Make sure your gear is in good condition. This includes protective gear, clothing, and shoes, all of which could cause serious injury if not kept in good condition.

If you become injured or experience ongoing pain, it may be time to look into physical therapy with your Core doctor.

How to return to physical activities safely during Covid-19

Gyms across the country are working hard to make sure they adhere to proper Covid-19 guidelines. Upon reopening, your gym will likely have new rules set into place that include social distancing guidelines and mask requirements. 

If you choose to participate in team sports this spring and summer, make sure to do so safely. We highly recommend adhering to Covid-19 safety guidelines put forth by the league and local governing bodies.

The CDC has put together a set of guidelines for choosing and returning to these activities safely and with low risk:

  • Choose an activity in an outdoor setting where social distancing is possible.
  • If the activity must be played indoors, look for facilities that have high ceilings and proper ventilation (e.g. open doors and windows, portable air filters). Your time in these settings should be as brief as possible to avoid prolonged exposure.
  • Bring your own equipment, including gloves, headgear, and water bottles. If any equipment is shared, it should be sanitized before and after each use.
  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth.
  • Stay home if you are sick or not feeling well. If you have Covid-19 or have come into contact with someone who does, you should also stay home.

Before returning to physical activity or team sports this spring, schedule an appointment with Core Orthopedics. Our team of expert doctors will help you in starting an exercise program safely while meeting your goals.

Location Information

Elk Grove Village

555 Biesterfield Road

Elk Grove Village, Illinois 60007

(847) 690-1776  


Hoffman Estates

2380 Lakewood Blvd.

Hoffman Estates, Illinois 60192

(847) 690-1776  

Core Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Surgical Affiliations

Physician and Orthopedic Surgeon in Geneva
Geneva Surgical Suites

119 Elizabeth Ln., Genoa City, WI 53128

Phone: 262-295-1213

Alexian Brothers Medical Center

800 Biesterfield Rd.

Elk Grove Village, IL 60007

Phone: 847-437-5500


St. Alexius Medical Center

1555 Barrington Rd.

Hoffman Estates, IL 60169

Phone: 847-843-2000


Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital

450 West Highway 22

Barrington, IL 60010

Phone: 847-381-0123


Call (847) 979-9214 today for a Consultation