Here’s Exactly What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Exercising for 30 Days

You’ve had a great year. You stuck to your routine, made it to your favorite classes five days a week, and even got a new PR in your fall season 5k.

Then, it happens. Suddenly, it’s November. Holiday parties, kid’s concerts, shopping, relatives visiting, meetings and every other possible interruption to your schedule have converged to put a serious dent in your “me time.” It’s going on a month since you’ve even taken your workout clothes from the closet and not only are you starting to feel more than a little sluggish, you’re beginning to wonder what is happening to your body. Whether it is a result of the holiday season or any other series of chronic scheduling challenges any time of the year, it is frustrating to feel like you’re losing your hard won gains. But how fast do you really lose them? And what can you do to maintain as much as possible during these times?

The Heart of It

Not surprisingly, one of the first things to go is aerobic fitness. Within a few days, the effects may be felt and significant losses can begin to occur within two weeks-particularly with regard to high end aerobic capacity. If you have been very aerobically fit for a long time, the losses will not be quite as great, but even so, research has shown that it can take over twice as long to regain fitness as takes to lose it.

The Good News

Even small amounts of high intensity cardio, as little as once per week, can help to offset these losses. So, even if you are of the mindset that “if I can’t make it for hour, why bother”, think again. Doing even a 10-20 minute workout with several short bouts of high intensity can make a big difference. After a quick warm-up, try alternating one minute of all-out effort (running, cycling, jumping rope) with one minute of rest. Even better, try to get into one group fitness class a week — even if you can’t stay the whole time. Great options at Life Time include indoor cycle classes EDG or AMP Cycle as well as group fitness classes like TCX, Strike! or Warrior Sculpt.

Muscle Matters

Similar to losing aerobic fitness, if you cease to hit the weights for as little as two weeks, you’re going to notice it. Within seven to 14 days, some initial losses in muscle strength begin to occur. As with aerobic conditioning, studies show that the longer you’ve been consistently training before the hiatus, the better your chances are for maintaining more of it and coming back sooner. If you can avoid going longer than one month, you may find that the same weights are more challenging but still doable.

The Good News

Even small amounts of resistance training can prevent major losses. At Life Time, I tell my clients to try to stick with their personal training sessions but if really pressed for time to do a quick round of multi-joint exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups and pull-ups a few times a week. Or, take a class like Barbell Strength or TCX class and you won’t have to work so hard once your routine stabilizes. Or, for a little dose of Yoga with your strength and cardio, try Warrior Sculpt.

Consistency Counts

One of the most challenging aspects of coming back after a hiatus is regaining the habit. However, consistency is the most important aspect of creating change, so be wary of the voice in your head that makes it easier and easier not to make some type of movement happen. While it is often said it takes 21 to 30 days to build a new habit, some research suggests it can take up to two months. So losing the habit over the course of a month could take twice as long to rebuild.

The Good News

You can rebuild the habit as long as you commit to it. Recognize that although you may not be able to come back to the frequency at which you left off, you can build your way back one good choice at a time. Solicit the motivation of a workout buddy or your community from your health club. Set a workout appointment with a buddy and you’ll be a lot less likely to skip out. If you don’t have a workout buddy, enlist the help of an instructor by asking them to hold you accountable. At Life Time, we have amazing personal trainers and weight loss professionals who are committed to helping you achieve your health and fitness goals, and also won’t judge you no matter how long you’ve been on a hiatus from them. When your favorite instructor posts her schedule on social media, say you’ll be there. You’ll be back in fighting shape before you know it.

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