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What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Exercising?


It is awfully tempting to take a long (or permanent) break from exercise. After all, exercise is difficult, takes up time and creates the potential for injury. However, those who stop exercising face a variety of consequences. The failure to exercise is terrible for physical health as well as mental health. So don't throw in the towel on exercise. You should carve out at least half an hour several days per week for cardio exercises and strength training. Here's why.


Hard-earned Gains are Temporary

According to ColumbiaDoctors sports medicine physician Farah Hameed, MD, exercise gains are not permanent. If you do not exercise on a regular basis, your body will pay the price. Gains made from exercise begin to disappear in as few as a couple weeks following the activity. The bottom line is you have to exercise every single week. The optimal frequency for exercise is several times a week. Otherwise, your body will not only stagnate but gradually lose muscle, stockpile fat and might even function in a flawed manner.

A Lack of Exercise Compromises Brain Functionality

It takes a mere 10 days of inactivity to cause brain activity to change. A 2013 review found exercise likely offsets memory loss stemming from the aging process. Another study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience shows that even a brief break from exercise can spur negative changes in the brain. The failure to exercise reduces the flow of blood to the brain's hippocampus. This is the section of the brain responsible for memory and emotion.


A Gradual Physical Decline

As noted in this informative YouTube video, the failure to exercise causes a significant decrease in VO2 max. A week without exercise causes VO2 max to drop by 5 percent. This means there is diminished oxygen available to spur the creation of muscle mass. Less muscle makes it difficult to exercise in an effective manner. The VO2 max decline only worsens with each consecutive week of inactivity.

The Lack of Exercise Sabotages Your Endurance

The more time you spend sitting still, the less endurance you will have. It is even possible for two weeks of inactivity to spike your vitals. Can you imagine struggling to ascend a flight of stairs or walk at a brisk pace for an extended period of time? It is possible if you stop exercising. Inactivity across a two-week period can spur a VO2 max dip of 10 percent. Continue to live an idle life for a month and VO2 max can dip by 15 percent. It drops 20 percent or more following three months of inactivity.


Inactivity is a Serious Threat to Your Health

Though you might not notice a significant alteration to your strength or agility after you stop exercising, such inactivity can hike blood glucose levels and blood pressure. This is a major concern for everyone yet those with diabetes or elevated blood pressure levels are especially vulnerable to such changes. Consider the results of a 2015 study that determined those who engaged in an 8-month regimen of aerobic exercise saw their blood glucose levels improve. These improvements vanished after 14 days of inactivity.

Strength Dissipates After two Weeks of Inactivity

Dr. Hameed determined strength decreases after two weeks without exercise. Some study participants noticed a reduction in strength following a month of inactivity.


Two Months of Inactivity Spurs Weight Gain

Dr. Hameed determined six to eight weeks of inactivity causes a meaningful accumulation of fat. Such weight gain resulting from inactivity is true for all individuals, even those who are world class athletes. A 2012 study determined competitive swimmers who engaged in a 5-week break from their usual training endured a 12 percent increase in body fat. They also had a larger waist circumference and increased body weight following this 5-week period. These results are especially concerning as these athletes were not completely idle during the study. They participated in moderate exercise during the 5-week period in which they did not engage in training.


Exercise Boosts Mood

All it takes is one workout to improve happiness. Exercise provides a rush of endorphins that lift the spirit. Engage in exercise on a regular basis and you will enjoy this influx of happy chemicals every single week. You will feel less grumpy, less anxious, more energized, emotionally stable and generally happier.


Even Slight Physical Activity is Better Than None

If you are tempted to go “cold turkey” on exercise, consider the results of a 2009 study that determined engaging in minimal exercise each week caused a 5.6 percent reduction in VO2 max while five weeks of inactivity led to a whopping 11.3 percent drop. So don't become a complete couch potato. It will help to engage in moderate physical activity even if you can't incorporate a full workout that pushes your body to the limit.

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