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From the Field to the Office: The Former Athlete’s Guide to Staying Fit

Nearly eleven years ago and I still vividly remember the overtime playoff loss that ended my high school basketball career, the last time I circled the bases out on the softball field and the final time we all huddled up on the volleyball court.

I was a three-sport athlete and even just a few days into the short break between seasons I felt lost and with too much time on my hands. While I opted out of playing competitively in college, I was still very much involved with sports, participating in intramural seasons socially and on club teams more seriously as President and captain.

We spend nearly the first twenty-two years of our lives in school and for a lot of us that also means playing on sports teams. Leaving that world behind after college graduation was like leaving a part of who I was behind. My identity had been so tied up in the word “athlete” and my social life so intertwined with my sports teams that I felt like in ways I had to redefine who I was and what I did.

As I adjusted to life outside of the classroom, I ached for days spent on the field and on the court. With an intense job on Wall Street, I found myself sitting more than I was moving for the first time in my life. Endless hours behind a computer and eating three meals a day at my desk coupled with a long commute and a stressful time-sensitive environment, I was finding it difficult to squeeze in any type of physical activity consistently.

As I’ve talked to countless female co-workers, close friends and family members, all of us say the same thing – we miss being part of a team. We miss working together towards a common goal, we miss the friendships and we miss the camaraderie. But we also miss showing up to a practice each day and putting in workouts with our friends.

When I think back to the time of my life when I was the most focused, the most productive, the happiest and possibly the healthiest, it was in high school, when I was physically active nearly every single day and doing so with teammates and friends. Last Spring I tried to recreate that kind of experience and challenged myself to working out six days a week during the month of May but each workout had to be with someone else.

Over the 31 days, I went for runs with different buddies, headed to yoga with my roommate, tried barre and Pilates classes, went for walks with co-workers and played basketball with friends. And what I learned in the most physically active month I’ve had since high school, is that: 1) finding support in health and fitness is key, and 2) moving every day makes a difference, regardless of how intense the activity. In a few short weeks, I felt better physically and mentally than I had in a while.

I may not be putting in grueling two hour plus workouts, six days a week, but I have made changes to how I approach fitness so that I can find the same level of enthusiasm that I did while playing sports. Here are ten tips for making the transition from the life of a team sports athlete, for finding consistency in your physical activity and for making fitness a little bit easier and a lot more fun:

1) Make it social. Health and fitness can be hard, but viewing it as an opportunity to be social can keep spirits high and even lead to better results. Schedule weekly workout dates with friends, jump in on a workout and wine event or sign up for a fitness meetup and make new buddies who are into the same activities as you.

2) Try out different activities. I’m an outdoor person so trying to get to the gym can sometimes feel like torture. When I stopped forcing myself to hit the elliptical and turned instead to running and biking outside or planning hiking and snowboarding weekends, I found myself much more motivated. Find what activities get you most excited to get moving and vary your workouts to prevent boredom.

3) Find a community. Join a small, local boutique fitness studio where you can get to know the instructors and other members more intimately. Participate in a dance class where you practice a routine each week and work toward a performance night. Find a weekly local running group or head to the same class each week at your gym. These communities can add motivation, support and social interaction that have you coming back for more.

4) Schedule walking meetings. If you have an office job, it’s likely that your days are spent at the computer and in meeting after meeting. Next time you’re scheduled to catch-up with a coworker, ask if they’d mind a moving meeting. Head outside or take a walk around the building to stretch your legs, clear your mind and get the creative juices flowing.

5) Stick to a routine. My favorite time to work out is in the late afternoon, likely from years of after-school practices, but working in the corporate world made it difficult to step away from my desk at that time. Whether you’re a morning, lunch-time or evening person, scheduling in time to exercise at the same point each day can create a routine that fosters consistency each week.

6) Hire a personal trainer or health coach. Sometimes we all need a little push. For some people, spending the extra money for a personal trainer or coach is well worth the added support and accountability. If you don’t like your first trainer/coach, try another to see if you connect better.

7) Sign-up for an event. Fun runs of all kinds are popping up everywhere. Sign-up for one with friends, put together a training schedule and dive into it together. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, tackle an endurance event with a charity team while raising money for a cause you care about.

8) Find support. You don’t need to play a sport to build a “team.” Surround yourself with people who understand your fitness goals and who want to help you reach them. Getting those closest to you on board with your plan can help keep you motivated and ease any anxiety.

9) Volunteer your time. There are plenty of organizations that work towards improving the lives of boys and girls through physical activity and sports. Whether you’re getting active with them or serving as a volunteer coach, being around kids reminds us that this is supposed to be and can be playful and fun. Plus, being around the sports we grew to love can ease the ache of no longer playing ourselves.

10) Join a sports league. All of the above may help, but sometimes there’s no substitute to getting back in the game, even just for fun. Find a local sports league that offers games that fit into your work schedule and break a sweat in the best way possible.