What Happens to Your Body If You Quit Exercising?

Julie Shenkman
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It's no secret that exercise has positive health implications ranging from weight control to reduced risk of disease. Unfortunately, the benefits don't last forever; in fact, once a person stops exercising, many positive effects fade away quickly. For health care professionals, it's crucial to educate patients on the risks of returning to an inactive lifestyle.

VO2max Declines

After you stop exercising, VO2max, or the maximum amount of oxygen your body can consume and use, starts to decline. Your VO2max drops by approximately 10 percent after two weeks, and continues to fall from there. A drop in oxygen consumption means there is less available for basic cellular functions and energy production, so you might feel tired or find it harder to do physical tasks. It's natural for your VO2max to drop when you lower training intensity or frequency, but even light exercise sessions can dramatically reduce the decline.

Insulin Sensitivity Drops

Exercise causes insulin sensitivity to rise, meaning your body is better able to break down glucose. Once you stop exercising, those benefits begin to disappear. According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, insulin sensitivity drops by nearly 52 percent after two weeks without exercise. Lower insulin resistance leads to higher blood glucose levels. Over time, these rising levels can cause a range of health issues.

Loss of Muscle Strength

When you exercise, you build muscle mass and strength. After you stop exercising, your strength begins to drop because of disuse. The rate of decline varies from person to person depending on individual physiology and past physical activity. For many people, strength begins to drop after two to four weeks of inactivity. In addition, people who have been exercising for long periods of time are likely to lose gains at a slower rate, while new exercisers might lose strength faster. As with VO2max, slowing these losses requires only light training. For health care professionals, this is promising; it means that patients can enjoy the benefits of exercise without sustaining a punishing training regimen.

Blood Pressure Rises

Blood pressure and exercise are closely connected. According to the Mayo Clinic, blood pressure drops after approximately one to three months of regular aerobic activity. As soon as you stop exercising, however, the positive effects decline dramatically. After just one month without working out, your blood pressure can revert to its pre-exercise levels. Since high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, heart attacks and strokes, sustained exercise is crucial for long-term health.

Physical exertion is crucial to overall body health. When you stop exercising, the positive effects can disappear in a surprisingly short amount of time. For health care workers and patients, understanding the risks of inactivity can be motivation to continue a lifelong workout plan.

Photo courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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