The Former Athlete's Guide to Staying in Shape
Restructure Physical Activity Into Daily Life
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as swimming, biking or running, each week. When practices and games are no longer automatically on the calendar, that means having to actually make time for fitness – which can be a challenge as "priorities change, [and] former athletes turn their focus towards finding a job, starting a family or pursuing new opportunities,” Reifsteck says.
The best way to reintroduce physical activity into a busy schedule is by dedicating a specific hour each day to working out – the human body thrives on routine. Can’t find spare time to hit the gym? Try working out in the morning – studies show early-morning workouts can boost alertness and metabolism throughout the day.
Develop Specific Short-Term and Long-Term Goals
Athletes know how to train with purpose. They've learned to push through sore musclesand early-morning practices in hopes of winning the big game or crossing the finish line first. “The competition juices your fire,” Kruchten says.
Once a competitive sports career is over, athletes may need new motivation to work out. “When winning is no longer that motivation, it’s important to find other motivations to fill that void,” says Laura Acosta, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and lecturer in dietetics with the food science and human nutrition department at the University of Florida.
Kimatni Rawlins, 41, of Silver Spring, Maryland – a former football running back at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta – found incentive to work out when he shot from 205 to 255 pounds after years of poor health habits. He was still eating like a college athlete, he says, but not exercising like one. "I was 35 years old, and I looked in the mirror and thought, 'Enough is enough,'" Rawlins recalls.
Although he had only practiced sprint intervals as a running back, Rawlins decided to train for a half-marathon. He also changed his eating habits, dropping fast food and sugary drinks for a clean, plant-based diet. After successfully losing the 50 pounds he had packed on, he founded Fit Fathers, a health, wellness and fitness training service for fathers who want to live healthy lifestyles. Six years later, Rawlins continues to work as a fitness trainer, educating others on how to incorporate nutrition and exercise into their daily lives.
Rawlins suggests setting specific short-term and long-term goals, and notes that they don’t have to be complex – strive to bike more or run a 5K, for example. Anything that allows progress to be tracked will suffice.
Reifsteck suggests creating an action plan for achieving fitness goals. Start by asking questions such as:
When will I exercise?
Where will I exercise?
What are some obstacles I may have to overcome?
What will I do to overcome those obstacles?
How can I make working out more enjoyable?
After creating an action plan, write it down. People who write down their goals are more successful than those who don't, research suggests.
Work Out With a Friend
Since athletes are accustomed to exercising with a team, suddenly working out alone can be challenging. “I really do miss the fact that you had those strong bonds on a team,” Kruchten says. The relationship between teammates is complex – a teammate can be an ally and a competitor. They also provide a source of motivation and camaraderie that’s hard to replace.
Instead of training alone, ask a friend or former teammate to join. “Find a workout buddy who can help hold you accountable to your goals and create that social connection in your exercise experiences,” Reifsteck says. Partner sports such as racquetball and one-on-one basketball can also help make exercise sociable.
Make Workouts Fun
Having fun is a great way to stay motivated during a workout. “It may sound cliche, but the most important thing is to find activities you enjoy,” Acosta says. Those who enjoy what they're doing are more likely to stick with it over time. And there are plenty of ways to spice up those 150 minutes of activity each week.
Start by cranking up the tunes – research suggests music can improve performance and trick the body into thinking a workout is easier than it actually is. The best way to maximize music during a workout is by matching the tempo to the exercise – slower beats for warm up and cool down, then higher tempos during aerobic activity.
Still pining for those days on the field, underneath the bright lights? Coaching a school or intramural team is a great way to stay involved in the sports community – plus, an hour of coaching softball, baseball or basketball burns 300 calories, according to the Compendium of Physical Activities Tracking Guide. Immediately after graduating from Vanderbilt, Kruchten began coaching Little League Baseball, then travel baseball and eventually his son's Little League team. The experience inspired him to get back to playing, and he is currently in a men’s rec league.
Rawlins prefers to switch up his workouts to keep things interesting. He's an avid mountain biker – which offers a full-body workout. He also goes to spin classes and regularly participates in group exercise – sometimes with as many as 60 people. "Pick your exercise based on your mood and what you're feeling that day," he says. "Don't put yourself in a box."
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