What happens to your body when you stop exercising?
Fitness should become a regular habit to have a significant impact on a person’s physique and health. Despite the best of plans, sometimes life gets in the way of fitness goals. What happens when an injury, a lack of time, or lack of motivation gets in the way of a regular exercise regimen for several weeks?
Easy come, easy go
The fitness skills that are the easiest to gain are also the easiest to lose. In a general sense, cardio fitness skills can be gained easier than can the skills associated with strength conditioning. Although plenty of avid cardio participants may disagree, a beginner can work up to more advanced cardio in a single workout. Admittedly, a beginner would do advanced exercises for shorter duration and with less skill than someone who was more experienced, but it is not impossible. A beginner cannot walk into the gym and bench press a 500-pound barbell. It takes weeks and months to safely work up to lifting higher weights and having more muscular endurance. This is part of the reason why people lose cardio skills after a shorter break for exercise than the break necessary to lose strength skills.
It only takes two weeks of not working out to start to loose abilities associated with cardio. That can mean the lung capacity that helps a person to be able to endure through long periods of vigorous exercise starts to fall back to the levels of a person who is not used to cardio. For strength conditioning, it takes between three to five weeks to start losing endurance. If a person has been working out for a long time, the muscles themselves do not change, but the person will experience difficulty restarting their previous exercise regimen. If months pass, a person could start to lose muscles as well. Whether a person does strength or cardio, any skills that are lost can be regained by starting to exercise again.
When muscles start to shrink
Of course, the declines in overall fitness level that come from not exercising become more pronounced as time goes on. After two months without exercise, the muscles themselves, rather than endurance levels, began to be impacted. The fibers that make muscles stronger start to shrink, which makes the muscles become soft, smaller, and less taut in appearance.
In terms of both fitness and cardio, loss of ability depends greatly on individual factors, such as the intensity of exercise and the amount of time the person has been exercising. In one study, participants who were new to exercise completed an intense workout regimen for a few months and then stopped exercising for six months. After their break from exercise, they had lost a significant amount of their fitness skills but they still had more ability than someone who had exercised for many years and taken the same break would have purportedly lost. In a similar study, Taekwondo athletes began to have significant losses of ability after just two months without exercise.
What about weight?
A person who eats more calories than he or she burns in a day will gain weight. Stopping an established exercise regimen for a long period of time can also lead to weight gain because the metabolism slows. This means an avid athlete who stops exercising could begin to gain body fat despite not having any dietary changes. The aforementioned Taekwondo athletes gained 21% body fat during their two-month break from exercise. This explains why so many professional athletes seem to gain a huge amount of weight when they retire.
Loss of muscle and ability is not a sudden process, just as a person will not suddenly gain weight simply because of skipping the gym for a week. Loss of skill, loss of muscle, and weight gain can all be reversed by starting to exercise again. A person who gets “out of shape” has the option of getting back into it.