This Is What Happens When You Stop Exercising

Among the top resolutions each new year is exercising, though this is, of course, a resolution people make all year every year. Many of us have a love-hate relationship with the gym's exercise machines. Take the treadmill. We tend to love it because it allows us to activate our bodies while building physical endurance and a feel-good aura. But we also hate it for myriad reasons. Perhaps the most common is that exercise requires energy and dedication to a regime that is time-consuming and sometimes just too easy to blow off.

And now, to add even more guilt to what is already a difficult goal to achieve, we discover that an entire thing known as detraining occurs to a body when a two-week stint of non-exercise sneaks up on us. Basically, the progress we've made in our exercise habits becomes stinted. InBody reports that 14 days of no exercise results in a sharp decline in our body's endurance due to natural biological changes. This discouraging process is also known as deconditioning. Think of a professional athlete who gains a few pounds after retiring from their sport, and you'll understand this sad phenomenon. 

And then there are a whole host of mental benefits to exercising that also say adios once we stop moving. The upside? Truth be told, there really isn't one. But hey, some extended rest and relaxation means you've probably binge-watched some fantastic shows and regrouped. Once regrouped, you can head back to the gym, but if you don't, your body may experience some interesting changes. Here's what you should know.

Your muscle size changes

Before we dive into these bodily changes, we must first note that all bodies are beautiful and valid. Exercising can't be done by everyone, and everyone who does exercise has their own preferred methods. When we talk about these bodily changes, though, these are meant informatively and never judgmentally. You are always perfect in your body. 

So, let's talk about muscles. When you exercise regularly, your muscles grow in a healthy fashion thanks to being stronger due to being utilized. The flip side? When you stop exercising, these larger muscles aren't needed so they decrease back to what they had been before you built them. This is why you will surely see dedicated exercisers out at their regular time hitting the pavement or lifting those weights. Nobody wants to lose the positive progress that's gained through regular exercise.

Say yoga is your thing but you roll up the mat and take a hiatus. Well, your whole body will likely respond. Not only will your overall well-being of mind suffer but your fitness levels will take a big hit. For example, Harvard Health Publishing conducted a smaller-scale study of people who don't exercise and found that after eight weeks, participants who did yoga for at least three hours twice a week ended up with increased flexibility, breathing abilities, and muscle strength. So, next time you consider letting the downward dog position go on an extended vacation, take it from us- reconsider. 

You'll gain weight

When you exercise, you burn calories, so when you stop exercising, they aren't burned off. Naturally, this translates into gaining weight. In fact, once your body doesn't have anything to work toward, such as an increased heart rate or slimmer physique, it goes back to what it was before. Ouch! Yes, it hurts. All that training and conditioning the body to look and feel good will stop and simply shrink back to your before-ever-working-out baseline after just a few weeks of stopping. And allow a few months to go by and you'll really notice the weight gain. 

While it doesn't seem fair, it makes sense. The body is a complex machine. It reacts to what we train it to become. If we allow ourselves to be couch potatoes, we will soon find excess weight packs itself on. Both perhaps more concerning is the occurrence of deadly diseases. In fact, a study published by Circulation showed that two years of habitual exercise by middle-aged people who hadn't been exercising previously produced better oxygen levels. The study's conclusion maintains that exercise reduces the possibility of heart failure, but this is just one example of a deadly disease that regular exercise can help us avoid. Another wise reason to keep it up!

Your endurance level slips

Unfortunately, your endurance levels will also decrease once you stop exercising. This means your energy will go down. Ever notice how after a workout or even just a brisk walk, you have increased stamina and feel clear-headed? There's a good reason for this high. Stop exercising, and the natural high will go away. On this, New York trainer and exercise physiologist, Scott Weiss, C.S.C.S., told Men's Journal, "Speed, endurance, and strength can decrease by 25 to 30 percent within two to three weeks." Yet another reason to keep the fitness regime in place!

Exercise keeps our hearts pumping and our bodies and minds feeling good. Once you stop this, everything is affected. Suddenly, you may notice simple things such as that walk through the grocery store aisles or even just getting to the car at the end of the parking lot become more arduous than ever before. Our whole lives become more complicated. Endurance is vital to wellness, as without it, lethargy creeps in, and no one wants that!

Your coordination may suffer

Thanks to exercise, we have better coordination. We're more alert and our bodies have muscle memory. According to Science Alert, our coordination may suffer once we stop exercising. All in all, not exercising creates a whole host of issues. It's paramount that we exercise, however small it may seem, our whole life. Our nervous systems alter as we age. This means that the sharpness of mind we enjoyed in our youth gives way to forgetfulness, and even our quicker-than-lightning reflexes decrease with time. 

Naturally, our coordination also declines. All of this is rather depressing but staying active is one way to fight it. But what exactly is coordination? According to Physiopedia, coordination is exemplified by the timing and tension of our muscles, the correct speed in our movement, and the direction and distance we travel. All these phenomena together allow for the muscles to do what you're trying to achieve with them.

Your flexibility may differ

Now we come to flexibility. This is paramount to the ease of everyday life. Things such as simply retrieving a box of cereal from the cupboard require we have some amount of flexibility. But really our daily lives rely on our ability to be flexible. We stand up tall on our tippy toes and crunch down low by moving most of our bodies. And while doing both we flex many prominent muscles. If we stop exercising, we lose some of our flexibility because our joints aren't as agile if they're not utilized regularly.

To be flexible, one has to be able to use their joints to go through a thorough capability of motion without any pain. According to UC Davis Health, there are quite a number of things that can lead to a decrease in what's recognized as the standard flexibility of joints. Sure enough, one of them is being sedentary. Also affecting the ability to be flexible is not stretching. So, be mindful before and after you exercise, and make sure to include some stretching into the mix. Stretching keeps you flexible during your WFH days, too!

You'll pump less oxygen to the lungs

When you stop exercising, you will breathe in less oxygen to your lungs. This means you may become breathless easier, as you're not utilizing your muscles. It's actually a vicious cycle. You may not want to exercise due to difficulty breathing or becoming breathless, yet you need to continue exerting yourself to get to a point where you breathe easier thus being less breathless.

You don't want to get into a situation where you're not being active due to breathlessness. Instead, you want to work yourself up little by little until you achieve physical activity that can be maintained indefinitely. According to Osmosis, an increase in oxygen to the lungs occurs when you exert yourself physically. So, what is enough exercise?

According to Lung, adults should exercise at least five days a week for 30 minutes. The activity level should be moderate and includes gardening, speed walking, bicycling, and even heavy-duty house cleaning. Finally, a healthy reason to motivate us to clean the house!

Your blood pressure goes up

Once you stop exercising for long enough, the weight creeps back on. But an added bummer is that, unfortunately along with gaining weight, your blood pressure goes up, too. According to the Mayo Clinic, it's essential people exercise at least 30 minutes daily. Another way to keep your blood pressure down is to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. Keeping a diet that is low in cholesterol and saturated fat can help, too.

Of course, you should also follow a diet that is low in sodium. There are all kinds of "boring" things one needs to do to keep that blood pressure down. And we know most of them, don't we? Regardless, we'll revisit the big no-nos. One of them is alcohol. Too much alcohol contributes to higher blood pressure. The general recommendation is one alcoholic drink per day for a woman and two for a man. One drink translates into five ounces of wine. Then, of course, there's smoking. This also elevates your blood pressure. Furthermore, make sure you get a good night's sleep. Adequate rest helps ensure healthy blood pressure as well.

Feelings of depression will increase

For those prone to depression, not exercising will exacerbate the condition. It's well known that exercise promotes a feeling of well-being and increased mental stability as it brings on those feel-good endorphins. This has been well-documented in numerous studies, such as one from the Mayo Clinic, which states that physical activity and feeling better mentally naturally hold hands. It also notes that once you get into the swing of exercising, this "feel good" state will linger. That being said, remaining sedentary doesn't do your body or mind any favors.

Not a traditional gym person? Try exercising in an outdoor gym or simply getting outside and taking a walk. Owner and professional physical trainer at San Diego-based outdoor gym PB Fitness Katie Cardoza says, "The benefits of exercising outdoors are many. From getting extra vitamin D from the sun to not staying stationary for an extended period of time. Outdoor exercise also promotes improved mood and reduced depression. Being out in the open provides a mental health boost that one cannot get in an indoor gym." 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

You'll experience lower self esteem

We live in a society where body image is at the forefront of our minds. Many people hit the pavement for aesthetic reasons. And while this may be a rather "surface" reason, it gets them moving nonetheless. Our self-esteem is so essential to our well-being, so if we don't feel good about ourselves, we'll be more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. It's truly a frustrating situation that leaves little room to feel good about oneself, but there are always tips for fighting back against low self-esteem, which include exercising.

Body image and how we view ourselves have seemingly always been at war, and there are unfortunately people who are ideally healthy in body but suffer in mind. Sometimes we get too concerned with our weight and begin to "see" ourselves in a fashion that simply isn't true. Some people become totally consumed with their weight and cannot see that they are already perfectly healthy. This is called body dysmorphia.

"Imagine what it might be like if your body was the source of extreme feelings of anger, disgust, anxiety, fear, and hopelessness. Try to visualize how it might be if viewing your outward appearance triggered a reaction usually associated with a perilous situation, and how disconcerting it would be if every time you looked at yourself you experienced primal feelings of terror," writes Arie M. Winograd, M.A., L.M.F.T., in "Face to Face with Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Psychotherapy and Clinical Insights." "If you have not had such an experience, it is probably quite difficult to comprehend how it is possible to have such a reaction to one's own body. This, though, is the very tormenting reality for individuals who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)."

Your sleep will suffer

This is another big one! We all need our sleep, but when you stop exercising, your sleep may very well get disrupted. In fact, a specialist on sleep, Natalie Pennicotte-Collier, told British Vogue that "physical activity increases time spent in deep sleep, the most physically restorative sleep phase. Deep sleep helps to boost immune function, support cardiac health, and control stress and anxiety." Clearly, sleep is essential to feeling well.

According to the Sleep Foundation, insomnia plagues 15% of adults. Exhausting! This nightmare condition is characterized by waking up multiple times throughout the night, getting up too early, or having a hard time falling asleep a few times a week. And this may all be a sad result of not exercising. The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that medium-paced exercise aided those with insomnia. The dream result? Next time you're tired after a solid workout, know that you actually deserve that good night's sleep. Indeed, getting your Zzzs is crucial to sweet dreams and even sweeter health.

Anxiety symptoms can increase

Another problem is the symptoms of anxiety that can grow into a nasty beast when exercise goes out the door. Common sense, along with numerous studies, shows that symptoms of anxiety are heightened when exercise is ignored. In fact, one study referenced by JAMA Network shows that when people who normally don't exercise began to spend 30 minutes doing physical activity over a 12-week stint, their symptoms of anxiety decreased.

So many mental and physical ailments are exasperated when people throw in the towel on exercising. It's frightening. But it should motivate us. Thirty minutes of exercising only five days a week can change your life. It's not just a cliché to preach the benefits of exercising; it's your health. Anxiety is an awful thing to fight, and chronic anxiety can take over your life, though this isn't to say that exercise is a cure-all for anxiety. You should still seek professional help for any mental health issue you face. Fortunately, today our society is more cognitive of anxiety and its ugly head.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Stress levels will go up

The benefits of exercise just keep accumulating into one big heap of a "you've-got-to-do-it" mountain. Modern life is full of stress and exercise is just one way to keep stress levels down. A study from the Mayo Clinic reports that really any kind of exercise will help keep stress levels at bay. Therefore, we find it's a true win-win when you exercise for your body, mind, and soul. As we know, chronic stress creates a whole host of health issues; it's its own kind of monster. Unfortunately, conditions such as insomnia, headaches, and panic attacks can be a sign that you're under too much stress.

The Mayo Clinic reports that numerous health ailments can be a result of being under stress. Health challenges such as diabetes, becoming obese, heart disease, and high blood pressure join the list of ever-increasing results of stress. Still, to combat stress and incorporate more exercise into your daily routine, you can give yoga a try. If you stop doing yoga, you'll likely see similar results to if you quit exercising generally, but for many, yoga is easier to achieve on a daily basis than traditional exercise is. You don't need much room for it, and you can even do it on your lunch break in a more accessible way than, say, leaving for a run or going to the gym. 

Ultimately, it's clear that exercise is very necessary, so why not try to set yourself up for success this week?

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.