Before I came travelling, I had a pretty good routine when it comes to exercise. I was at the gym for about an hour every week day, just after breakfast, and I was doing really well.
Life is quite unpredictable when travelling, so it makes exercise quite difficult. For someone who was a fairly habitual gym-dweller, not having access to a gym meant that I pretty much just stopped doing intentional exercise.
On most days, I was walking a ton but, now that we’re kind of settled in one place, that’s stopped too.
So, for people wondering if it really makes that much difference if you skip the workout for a few weeks, here’s what happens to you when you stop exercising.
You can lose what you’ve gained
There are obvious things like muscle mass and aerobic fitness that you can lose when you’re not exercising for a while. If you’ve been losing some fat, and you stop exercising without compensating with your diet, you could regain a bit of that, too.
But, there’s also the stuff you don’t see. For example, people who had been regularly exercising for 8 months improved their level of blood glucose. When they stopped exercising for just 2 weeks, they lost nearly half of that improvement.
There’s a risk of illness
Exercise can protect our immune systems. It can also protect us from the negative effects of stress. Interestingly, exercising can improve how sensitive you are to pain, which I didn’t know before writing this!
It makes sense, then, that when some people stop exercising, they report feeling more tired. They also report changes in their mood and symptoms of pain.
The weird thing is that otherwise healthy people who have an under-active stress response might be exercising regularly to improve that response because they find it reduces symptoms like pain, tiredness and poor mood. Without meaning to!
When a stressful event or situation stops them from exercising, those symptoms can increase. These people might be at risk of developing illness like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. Obviously, this is a bit speculative and more research is needed but, still, interesting!
People who suffer with low mood, depression and anxiety may already know that exercise helps. A lot.
(If anyone’s interested in why exercise helps these things, let me know and I’ll do another post on it)
If you exercise regularly, stopping could impact your mood even within a couple of days.
For example, people who normally exercised 6-7 days a week stopped for 3 days. When they stopped, they said their mood was disturbed, they were more anxious, depressed and confused. Their sense of energy and drive also decreased.
Thankfully, when they started exercising again, these things improved!
It seems that exercise (especially aerobic types) has an antidepressant and anti-anxiety effect. It protects us against the negative effects of stress which, as we know, can be very damaging to our health if it’s prolonged.
Forming good exercise habits can protect our physical and mental health.
If you’re not a nerd like me, I apologise for this section. I can’t help but get too into the brain stuff.
So, it looks like, when you stop exercising, it can have some pretty weird effects on your brain. Some research shows that, after just 10 days of no exercise, blood flow to several brain areas decreased.
The areas of the brain affected are involved in stuff like: recognition, perception of emotion, language, performing mathematical tasks, body image, processing visual letters, emotional response to pain, analysis of logical conditions, navigation, long-term memory, remembering episodes from your own life, and movements like posture, balance, and speech.
After 10 days! It’s as good a time as any to quote Deadpool so – what in the ass?
These people were athletes who had been consistently training for more than 15 years, too!
So, even a short-term break in exercise can affect the blood flow to some fairly important brain regions. Not that there are any unimportant ones, ya know?
Just as an aside, blood flow shows which areas of the brain are responding to different stimuli. If you’ve ever had a functional MRI scan, that’s what’s measured.
Don’t panic, I’m not talking about missing the gym for 1 day. But, if you suddenly stop your regular routine, it’s important to stay active as much as possible to avoid these negative effects.
The good news is that, when you start exercising again, this can all be reversed. How long that takes would depend on lots of things like your fitness level, age, weight, and the type of exercise you’re doing.