WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS TO YOUR BODY IF YOU TAKE TWO WEEKS OFF EXERCISE?

You’re about to go on hols and are working hard beforehand, hitting the gym or being active outdoors, with the intention that you’ll keep some form of exercise going whilst you’re away and then get straight back into it on your return – sound familiar? 

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Often the reality is, you do no, or little, exercise whilst you are away; (walking the beach and a leisurely swim does not really count as exercise!) increase your intake of calories, sometimes doubling the calories you eat in a day, if you add an ice cream, a buffet breakfast and 3 cocktails to the mix …….and, on return, take a few weeks to return to your favourite exercise routine!

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Well new research from the University of Liverpool is here to remind us that taking too much time off from our workouts can lead to muscular and metabolic changes that could potentially increase a person’s risk of diabetes, heart disease and even premature death!

The new research wanted to determine how much a two-week break from sweating it out would impact healthy, normal to overweight young adults.

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Everything was measured, from their fat and muscles mass to how quickly they recovered from exercise. The group spent two weeks walking just 1,500 steps per day, which was an 80% decrease from what they were used to.

The results were quite damming – after two weeks in which they did not alter their eating habits, the participants all gained weight and lost muscle mass, plus their total body fat increased around their stomach. They also lost speed and endurance and were unable to run as long or at the same intensity as before, and their metabolic changes included a decrease in insulin sensitivity, an increase in fat stored in the liver, and an increase in bad cholesterol………Don’t you just love it when they lay it all out for you in black and white? :) 

It would seem the human body is a very sensitive system, and if the training is not there and your body does not have to adapt; it simply slinks back to a baseline. How far you slide will also depend on how fit and healthy you were before, but the good news is: if you get straight back into your training, after two weeks of nothing, then your health markers return to normal within two weeks and the effects are completely reversible! Woohoo!

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That really is a big motivator not to spend two weeks after the holidays thinking about getting back into it, and finally returning to some form of fitness 4 weeks later!

For those who only do 6 to 8 weeks of exercise every January, apparently taking 4 to 8 months off sets you back to a baseline of complete fitness beginner, zero fitness ability! You have to start over again, and again, and again! Groundhog day – kind of!.

Personally, we’ve always exercised on holiday – we  are too scared to let it all go and I don’t want the pain of getting back to strength and fitness. You definitely lose your cardio first, and then strength, but it’s the smaller muscles that are affected the most. Your bigger muscles: legs, glutes, back and chest will retain some of their shape but the smaller ones, like abs, triceps, biceps will be visibly saggier by the time you get back on track!

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Exercise physiologists at the American Council on Exercise have put the stats as: Speed, endurance and strength can decrease by 25 to 30 percent with two to three weeks of no exercise.  Forget about just the size and strength, your muscles also won’t fire up the same way and it will take you longer, or be much harder to see any visible results after an extended break.

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I know exercise is good for you and I know holidays are awesome; combine them both, even for a little bit every second day (1 hour of exercise is 4% of your day), then you will protect your body from future chronic diseases, increased body fat around your belly, a loss of endurance and the ability to work at any high intensity (imagine a HIIT class after 8 weeks off!!).

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If you’ve got fitness and health goals for the rest of the year, be mindful of that when you take off on vacation and if you are planning a ‘Fly and Flop’, get straight back into it when you return. You’ll feel sharper quicker, as exercise helps pump oxygen to the brain, so work won’t be a cloudy fog on your first week back and you won’t feel as ‘blue’ about being back at work.

Movement, of any kind, where you get your heart rate up and your blood pumping increases dopamine levels and ‘feel good hormones’, helping with relieving anxiety and fatigue. Plus whenever you exercise it helps you to sleep better, releasing tension in the body and promoting a deeper sleep, good for getting things back on track after travelling and jet-lag.

All that’s left to be said:

‘Happy holidays!’