That depends. Here's what it depends on.
If you sat too long this past year, things hurt and creak and crank, and suddenly you think that your hiking days or gym workouts are in the past, wait a New York minute. I've got two guys who might have some suggestions, because you're in good company.
Keith Plummer, my jock chiropractor, cranked my neck gently to either side. It's still stiff, but getting better. It rains a lot up here in Oregon, and I'm still recovering from having re-fractured a pinky toe. I don't mind hiking in the rain, I do mind hiking in the rain AND re-injuring my toe. It's frustrating.
Like lots of folks, I SO want a return to normal, whatever that might look like. For me, that means not being injured and being able to hike regularly. Run. Anything outside, really.
Sometimes a part of me wonders how much fitness I've lost from having multiple injuries, and the imposed sitting that quarantine demands. Plummer was telling me that he gets that a lot. He works with plenty of people my age, and I'm 68.
"They claim that they just can't do stairs any more. They get winded after a single flight of eight steps. Or, they can barely make it around the block.," he said as he finished up my adjustment. "Aside from the biggest complaint about weight gain, older patients find that the constant sitting and lack of movement cause them to lose trust in their bodies, their balance. They are scared of standing up too fast, or even of the stairs in their own house. The more they sit, the less they trust their bodies.
"But the problem is that the more they sit, the weaker the quadriceps muscle, the thighs, are, and that virtually guarantees a wobbly walk. So it's a constant downward spiral."
If you add to this the aches and pains that too much sitting causes in our hips and lower back, people tend to default to yet more rest, which means more aches and pains.
Plummer said that too many of us, now that we've been under quarantine for so many months, have developed bad habits that we might never have had before. We can get comfortable with being cocooned, and even if we have good intentions, the commitment to floor stretches or balancing exercise can slip in favor of another cuppa joe and more YouTube cat videos.
"I can't do this any more" is a constant refrain. That belief supports giving up entirely. But all is hardly lost. Stay with me here.
Earlier I'd been working out with my personal trainer, Ryan, who was telling me that there's been a slow uptick in returning clients. That gym is open to sessions with personal trainers only, so at any given time, especially early in the morning, there are no more than four folks inside the gym. He was telling me that his clients were having a very hard time acknowledging that they were suffering from any kind of performance loss.
"Many of them have never been sidelined with an injury," he said, correcting my form with a gesture.
"A lot of them head out to the hills or for a long run after months of inactivity and are shocked that they get injured or get winded a third of the way up a mountain that they hiked with ease a year ago. Then they get mad, and try to push way too hard. They don't have the perspective of someone who's been sidelined and had to recover from an injury, so they're impatient.
That impatience gets them injured, which sends them over to Kevin, who tries to put them back together again. Both these men have some advice for all of us facing a return to some kind of regular activity. Whether you're older or younger, it makes little difference, as the process is the same.
1. Mental muscle: Plummer says that if we're invested in how we can't do that, that becomes our story, and we can get invested in a story that is very limiting. So first, if we say to ourselves that we can't do that any more, perhaps all we need to do is change two words: I can't do that right now.
2. Start slow and low. Baby steps. Ryan says you might need to back your ego off a bit. If this is the very first time you've ever had to start over, it's a terrific process to learn. I do it regularly, and have learned to trust the process and my body. Can't do eight steps? Do two. Can't do the whole mountain? Finish a third. It doesn't take very long before the body realizes it needs to get to work, and wholeheartedly joins the party. But leaping in too soon and too hard leads to injury, and then to someone like Kevin, and frustration.
3. Be patient. Plummer advises: Give your body a bit of time. You might be sore. Expect it, plan on it. Soreness is fine, agonizing soreness isn't. Know the difference between just sore and I tore a muscle. Take it easy, give your body time to catch up with your sometimes overrated opinion of your physical prowess.
4. Trust your body. Ryan makes this guarantee: "If you've done it in the past, you can do it again most likely. Muscle memory is an amazing thing. However for aging bodies, it might take a bit longer. Truth is that no matter how old you are the body wants work."
5. Have a sense of humor. And both of them had this to say: This has been a tough year all around. If you chose to sit most of it out, you're not alone. The only one you're competing with is you.
We may have lost some time and a bit of fitness, but the biggest obstacle is our attitude about it.