What happens when you stop exercising?

Posted in Fitness, Wellbeing
on April 15, 2018
What happens to your body when you stop exercising?

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.

 

I know that exercising has a positive effect on my mental and physical health. I shouldn’t have been surprised that I noticed changes in those areas when I stopped exercising.

 

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!

 

 

Mental health

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.

 

 

The brain

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.

 


Have you ever noticed these things when you’ve stopped exercising for a while? I know I have. I love to know this kind of stuff because it helps me make healthier choices for myself. What are your thoughts?


 What happens when you stop exercising? What effect does it have on your body, your brain and your overall well-being? #healthWhat happens when you stop exercising? What effect does it have on your body, your brain and your overall well-being? #health

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2 Comments

  • Beatrice N

    This is fascinating! I took a break from exercising for a while because I had plantar fasciitis. I’ve gotten back into it since then, although not as frequently, just because it’s hard to fit it back into my schedule. This is really motivating me to make it work, though!

    Beatrice | The Bliss Bean

    April 15, 2018 at 20:37 Reply
    • North

      Thanks so much for having a read and taking the time to comment!

      I think that’s a really difficult thing isn’t it, when you kinda have to stop exercising because of an injury or condition? I guess it’s just thinking outside the box a bit and figuring out if it’s possible for you to still stay active in some way. I’m glad you’re feeling motivated to make it work, but I know it can be really difficult to fit it in sometimes. I’m the same!

      April 15, 2018 at 21:51 Reply

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