Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion…and bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.
We all know the benefits of staying active, but sometimes our clients need to be reminded of these benefits (and negative effects) over and over again, before they truly understand just how important persistence and consistency are when it comes working out. I recently read this great article in Outside Magazine by Dan Roe, which reminds us to remind our clients of 5 things that happen when you stop exercising:
When a planned rest day turns into a rest week or a nagging injury keeps you out of the game for longer than anticipated, you expect a little guilt over dropping your exercise habit. But we consulted the experts to break down what happens when workouts grind to a halt and what they have to say may surprise you. It’s okay to take time off, but there are physiological changes that you should be aware of. The good news: while some gains do vanish overnight, most are reversible or don’t take much effort to maintain.
Blood Pressure Rises
In the short term, your blood pressure will change within a day depending on whether you work out or not. “With blood pressure, things happen very quickly, and they also cease very quickly,” says Linda Pescatello, a blood-pressure researcher at the University of Connecticut. Exercise causes increased blood flow, meaning your arteries temporarily widen to facilitate greater circulation. They tend to stay slightly larger for about 24 hours, but if you don’t get your heart rate up within a day, your blood pressure returns to baseline.
Skeletal Muscle Starts Resisting Insulin
When we exercise, our muscles process insulin and absorb the resulting glucose as energy. Reduce that energy expenditure and your muscles will adapt physiologically to become a little less insulin sensitive, says John Thyfault, a researcher at the University of Kansas.
You’re going to get small—and it’ll happen fast. The visible gains you made from a lifting routine will diminish within a week of quitting the weights.
VO2 Max Drops
VO2 max—the maximum amount of oxygen you can get into your system—matters because it helps determine your cardio capacity and performance potential.
Grumpiness Takes Over
A single workout, hike, swim, run, or ride almost instantly makes you happier, thanks to a rush of feel-good endorphins. But turn that one afternoon outing into a long-term daily habit and you’ll see bigger mood boosts every time, according to a study in Psychosomatic Medicine. Get out of the habit and your emotional drop will be much steeper, too.
Additionally, staying active may fight anxiety. Michael Otto, a psychologist and professor at Boston University, explains that exercise can mitigate anxiety by firing up your fight-or-flight response, the evolutionary trigger for adrenaline, sweat, and increased heart rate when faced with a challenge. When you stop exercising, your body forgets how to handle stress. Because you’ve allowed your natural fight-or-flight response to atrophy, you’re less likely to experience something tough—whether an interval workout or a stressful workplace relationship
—in a positive way. Instead, you get anxious.
“Many people skip the workout at the very time it has the greatest payoff. That prevents you from noticing just how much better you feel when you exercise,” Otto said in an article for the American Psychological Society. “Failing to exercise when you feel bad is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts. That’s the time you get the payoff.”