Fitness

What happens When You Stop Working Out?

Blog By: Kavitha Iyer.

What happens to your body when you stop working out for 2 weeks

Whether you’ve been traveling, focusing on your family, or going through a busy season at work, 14 days out of the gym takes its toll—not just on your muscles, but your performance, brain, and sleep, too. Here’s when and where you’ll see the most damage.

At the two week point without exercising, there are a multitude of physiological markers that naturally reveal a reduction of fitness level.

After all, despite all of its abilities, the human body (even the fit human body) is a very sensitive system—and physiological changes (muscle strength or a greater aerobic base) that come about through training will simply disappear if your training load dwindles, he notes. Since the demand of training isn’t present, your body has nothing to adapt to—and simply slinks back toward baseline.

Of course, how much and how quickly you’ll decondition depends on a slew of factors like how fit you are, your age, and how long sweating has been a habit. It’s worth it to get back on the wagon, too: Two to eight months of not exercising at all will reduce your fitness level to as if you never exercised before.

Don’t let it get to that point. Understanding what’s going on beneath your skin after about 14 days of rest overload will be immediate motivation to get moving again.

The visible signs of 2 weeks off

Many signs of deconditioning are not always physically visible to the naked eye—but you should expect a loss of muscle mass and size and the accumulation of body fat. If you don’t make any changes to your diet, you could gain a few pounds in this timeframe.

You might notice your performance slip, too: Speed, endurance, and strength can decrease by 25 to 30 percent within two to three weeks.

Your Muscles…

Bummer: A sizable decrease in muscle mass, capillary size, and density; bone density; flexibility; and overall blood flow and energy production are all side effects of becoming a couch potato.

And while your body will hang onto strength gains longer than aerobic gains, throwing in the proverbial exercise towel will gradually lead to a loss of lean muscle mass, muscular strength, endurance, and neuromuscular training adaptations.

What’s happening? As muscle fibers realize they don’t need to store energy, they will store less glycogen—which leads to something called atrophy (or the shrinking of muscle fibers). When muscle fibers shrink, they need more stimuli to contract. So you’ll have to work harder to see results.

Your Aerobic System…

Aerobic and endurance fitness reduce a lot faster than muscle mass—it’s the performance factor that is reduced the fastest. Physiologically, the changes are stark, too.

Stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped out of the heart to the body) reduces, the size of mitochondria (the power plants within a cell, linked to fitness health) reduce by almost 50 percent, heart rate increases, cardiac output reduces, and your VO2 max—or the maximum volume of oxygen an athlete can use (a gold standard of physical fitness) decreases about one percent a day.

Another setback: Your lactate threshold—or how hard and long you can work out until your muscles tell you to stop—begins to drop. (This stinks because working out at or close to your lactate threshold is a great way to build fitness; if yours is low you won’t last very long, and thus you’ll reap fewer benefits from a gym session.) You begin to lose endurance capability as well as the ability to perform at higher intensities.

Your Brain…

Since, exercise helps pump oxygen to the brain—one reason why you may feel sharp after a workout—you may feel a little cloudy or not as ‘on’ after weeks removed from your workout regime.

One factor at play: Both aerobic and strength training boost the neurotransmitter brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps promote the growth of new brain cells and enhances connections between existing ones. Some research even links low levels of BDNF to depression. This makes exercise an important part of maintaining cognitive function. Dopamine levels also drop as your days in the gym become a thing of the past, which may make you more anxious and fatigued. This feeds into motivation—if you’re tired and stressed you may avoid the gym, creating a vicious cycle. The longer the time off, the more difficult a time people have starting up once again.

Your Sleep…

Because exercise places both metabolic (or energetic) and mechanical stress on your muscle tissue, it can help promote good sleep. After all, it’s in deep REM cycles of sleep that your body produces hormones (like growth hormone and testosterone) to repair muscle tissue damaged during exercise, he notes. A lack of exercise will lead to higher levels of energy in the body and reduce the need for deep sleep, which could lead to restless or insufficient sleep.

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