Search IconSearch

How to Shift From Being an Athlete to an Active Adult

Performance exercise may not offer long-term benefit

man exercising in morning before work

If you’re a former high school or college athlete no longer feeling the intensity of competition, you have to learn new ways to exercise and stay fit. Experts say the biggest hurdle is often a mental one. You have to reassess your workouts with new goals in mind – from sports performance to your overall fitness.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

What makes people strong athletes doesn’t always serve their long-term wellbeing, says Primary Care Sports Medicine Physician Anne Rex, DO. For example, “Maximal lifting may make you stronger for football, but continuing extreme lifting into later life will likely cause orthopaedic problems,” she says.

She advises athletes to do the following:

1. For long-term fitness, be moderate

Real life doesn’t mimic the off-season, pre-season, in-season and post-season rhythm of athletics, which provide necessary rest for your body and prevent overtraining. “Former athletes can wind up pushing their bodies to extremes all year,” says Dr. Rex. This can cause long-term problems, including chronic injuries that may prohibit exercise altogether.

She says a long-term exercise plan should be reasonable. Exercise is as much a physiological stress on your body as heat, humidity and cold. It’s difficult to maintain high levels of physical performance indefinitely without rest.

2. Find new motivations

When improving athletic performance is no longer your primary motivation for exercise, it’s crucial to find another motivator – something that won’t change. Everyone is different, so look for something outside sports performance that will ensure consistent exercise throughout life.

New motivators can be:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Preventing a chronic illness that runs in your family, such as heart disease.
  • Effectively managing stress.
  • Improving sleep patterns.
  • Enjoying higher energy levels.

3. Come up with a new workout plan

Exercising for health and wellness can easily fit into a working lifestyle. A moderate fitness regimen takes just one hour, three to five times a week.

However, you can spread the different components of exercise throughout your week. If you can’t exercise for an hour, do just 30 minutes of cardio or strength training and make up the rest later in the week. “Exercise doesn’t have to be done perfectly to be effective,” says Dr. Rex.

With a reasonable approach to exercise, you can meet national guidelines for health and fitness, and maintain a strong physical fitness level throughout your life.

Your workouts should include these aspects of fitness:

  • Cardiovascular exercise: Do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio most days of the week (divide into 10-minute segments if you prefer). Walking is fine! Alternatively, do 20 minutes of vigorous cardio exercise three times a week.
  • Resistance/strength training: Use free weights, machines, calisthenics, exercise balls, bands or Pilates twice a week to exercise all major muscle groups and keep up lean muscle mass. You can get by with two sets of 12 reps. If time is tight, try a short strength workout with multi-joint resistance exercises: pushups, squats, lunges, leg presses, chest presses and rowing. Don’t worry about isolating individual muscle groups. In a pinch, try simple pushups to work the biceps, triceps, chest, upper back and abdominal muscles.
  • Balance and agility training: Do crunches on a ball or biceps curls while standing on one foot to improve strength and balance. Can be combined with strength/flexibility exercises such as Pilates or yoga.
  • Flexibility/Stretching: You can do this at a completely different time of day – at the office, after your morning shower, etc. Stretch at your desk or at home while watching TV, for example.


4. Keep sports in your life

Athletes become athletes because of the joy they find in sports and activity.

If you were an athlete in high school, try participating in intramural and recreational athletics in college to maintain an active lifestyle and prevent the boredom that active athletes often feel in the gym.

If you were an athlete in college, consider joining a tennis club or a racquetball, softball or baseball league as an adult to help compensate for any sense of loss. Throughout the seasons, incorporate outdoor sports such as skiing, hiking, cycling and running into your life.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Older person smiling, taking in the outdoors
June 13, 2024/Mental Health
Put Intention Behind Your Walking Meditation

While walking, be mindful of your body, your mind, your place in the world and all five of your senses as you pave a path forward, one step at a time

Person in a deep squat
June 13, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Here’s the Right Way To Do a Squat

Squat smart with proper technique, including a neutral spine, wide knees and an engaged core

People in gym doing cool down stretches
June 10, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Why You Shouldn’t Skip Cool Down Exercises

This important step gives your body time to return to its resting state while reducing muscle cramps, dizziness and injury

Person walking dog and person running in a park, with person sitting on a bench
June 5, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Walking vs. Running: Which Is Better for You?

The short answer? The best exercise is the one you’ll actually do

Hand holding cellphone with walking app, with feet walking and footprints
May 17, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Should You Aim To Walk 10,000 Steps a Day?

Walking is a great goal, but how many steps are best for you depends on factors like your fitness level and age

Person walking on walking pad at home office desk
May 16, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
What’s a Walking Pad — And Do They Really Work?

A walking pad is a simplified treadmill that can fit under your desk and help you get more movement in your day

Person stretching on floor mats in their home gym area
May 8, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Strength Finder: How To Create a Home Gym You’ll Use

First, reflect on your specific workout goals, and then pick and choose your fitness equipment

Person walking on home treadmill
May 1, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
The Benefits of Adding a ‘Deload Week’ to Your Workout Plan

Easing up on your routine can help your body recover and get stronger

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims