The world we live in today makes it all the more important to exercise regularly. Long working hours, abundance of junk food and alcohol are taking a toll on our bodies.
There may be times when “life” gets in the way. Injury, family, work or simply boredom can cause one to take a break from training. When you stop training your body starts to reverse the benefits you have gained through training very quickly. In fact, many of your hard-earned exercise benefits will start to reverse in as little as two weeks. This effect is known as de-training. Here are some of the changes you will experience within 2-4 weeks of de-training:
Your Brain Might Start To Change
Exercise improves blood flow going to the hippocampus. Hippocampus is the part of the brain associated with memory and emotion. With lack of exercise the brain begins to change for the worst. A person may experience mood swings, brain fog and even depression. At least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise is recommended to maintain health and prevent depression. Professor Bernhard Baune, Head of Psychiatry at the University of Adelaide observed depressive symptoms in some patients, who exercised less than the recommended level, in as little as three days. Here is a list moderate and vigorous intensity physical activities as outline by World Health Organization (WHO).
You Might Gain Fat
All else being equal – meaning you have made no other change in your diet or lifestyle – with the cessation of exercise you are bound to gain some weight. Your body now has a surplus of calories that you used to burn through your workout. It will turn the extra calories into fat. However, you are not looking at full blown obesity. You will feel plumper and flabbier though.
See the reason why we get fat is a combination of diet and exercise. Contrary to popular belief exercise is only a small portion when it’s comes to weight management. The amount of calories you burn through exercise in an hour can easily be replenished with a single meal. Granted there is also the “post burn”. But exercise alone will never be enough to control weight completely.
Your body is designed in a way that you could never starve the body of its caloric requirement. You need energy for breathing, talking, resting, digestion etc. Your brain, which represents just 2% of your total body weight, accounts for 20% of the body’s energy used. The real culprit is your diet. Eating small portions and cutting down on junk food will better benefit in weight management than exercising alone.
Endurance Takes A Nose Dive
This is one area where you will experience a sharp drop. VO2 max, a commonly used measure of individuals fitness level, drops upto 20% within 4 weeks inactivity. This means your heart will begin losing its ability to handle extra blood flow and your body’s ability to effectively use oxygen will also decline.
As your cardio drops you will find yourself out of breath after climbing a flight of stairs or If a 5K run took you 22 minutes, you might now need 25 minutes or longer.
Blood Pressure And Glucose
Exercise is extremely effective in managing both blood pressure and glucose. Simply quitting exercise alone should not increase blood pressure and glucose levels by default. Quitting exercise would bring blood pressure and glucose to your pre-exercise levels. However, individuals on early stages of hypertension/diabetes and individuals who are diagnosed with these conditions may experience significant changes.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology studied the benefits of exercise on insulin sensitivity. In this study overweight individuals (mean body mass index = 30 kg/m2) were put on 8 months long aerobic and resistance training program. As one might expect, exercise proved to be of great benefit in controlling insulin levels. But it also took a mere two-weeks exercise hiatus to wipe-out about half the insulin benefits. It’s just not fair!
Muscle & Strength
Within 3-4 weeks you will experience a decrease in muscle strength and tissue. As your muscle cells become smaller you will find it difficult to perform the same number of reps with the weights you used to.
Although the rate of drop in a month is not as steep as endurance, it takes about 12 weeks of inactivity to experience significant drop in muscle mass and strength. One study found that strength performance may not suffer much in a month, but power will decline significantly in the same time.
Age also plays an important role. A study on older women found that 1 month of detraining was enough to completely reverse the beneficial effects of 6 months of strength training.
I Am Resting
There’s a difference between quitting exercise for good and taking a well-intentioned rest. Rest and recovery will improve your muscle development and aerobic fitness. But if you have gone a month without exercising, that’s not resting. The only exception to this is if you’ve had an injury.
If you train hard, give your body the rest it needs. But don’t over-extend your rest days. Make an effort to go back. Being inactive will expose you to a plethora of short term and long-term health issues. Quitting is simply not an option.