Whether you were side-lined by an injury, let your schedule hinder your workouts or you simply lost the motivation to step on the stair climber, a longer-than-expected break from your fitness routine can lead to surprising physical, mental, and emotional changes. Our bodies are designed to be physically active. If you stop exercising, you’ll lose all your fitness gains within a few weeks.
THE STAGES OF DETRAINING
10 DAYS – YOUR BRAIN CHANGES
Skipping workouts doesn’t just take its toll on the usual suspects: weight, strength, and endurance. Research has found it triggers changes in the brain, too. After a 10-day period of no exercise, participants in a 2018 study experienced significant decreases in blood flow to multiple regions in their brains, including the hippocampus, the region responsible for memory and learning.
12 DAYS – YOUR ENDURANCE SUFFERS
After running the 2016 Marathon, 21 runners agreed to exercise no more than two hours per week (after running almost 32 miles per week during training). The study showed that after four weeks, the athletes experienced significant decreases in the amount of blood pumping to their hearts, making their runs feel harder.
The abundance of mitochondria, the parts of the muscle cell that make energy during exercise, decrease when you abandon your workouts, causing your endurance to plummet, too. Older studies showed declines in aerobic capacity after just 12 days of training.
2 WEEKS – YOU LOSE STRENGTH
Thinking of taking a break from the weights room during an extended vacation or a super busy holiday period? Research has found that one month of detraining reversed the beneficial effects of strength training on physical mobility.
After two months of logging 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least three times per week, you increase strength and endurance between 10– 15%. Stop exercising and those gains disappear in as few as two weeks. It takes a lot longer to get in shape than to fall out of shape.
5 WEEKS – YOU COULD GAIN FAT
Avoiding the gym could increase your percentage of body fat. Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found competitive swimmers who took a five-week break from training experienced weight gain, increases in waist circumference and a 12% increase in body fat.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In general, the stimulus from each session of exercise helps increase, or at least maintain many of the important aspects of our bodies that keep us fit. So, remove that stimulus and things start decreasing.
If illness or injuries prevent you from engaging in your regular fitness routine, try this: Never completely rest. Maintain mildto- moderate physical activity in areas that aren’t affected. Cross-training can help prevent significant physiological changes. Instead of running on the pavement, hit the pool; switch from hitting tennis balls to running; trade a highintensity physical activity for yoga – but don’t push yourself too hard.
As you return from injury or illness, think about the longterm goals and not trying to get back too quickly to the same level you were right before the injury.