At some point in time a lot of you experience some type of interruption to our normal exercise schedule. Whether it’s an injury, a change in work schedule, a family issue, or even the holidays; taking a pause from exercise can decondition our bodies much quicker than many of you think.
In some cases, deconditioning is unavoidable after a long exercise break, however there are other different factors that can affect your fitness decline such as the level of fitness, age, and length of an exercise ‘break.’ Regardless of the reasons, several studies show that you experience a much faster decline when you stop, rather than cutting back.
It is vital to have a consistent exercise routine as possible, however, if unexpected things arise in life, it’s best to exercise less than not at all. Any ways you can maintain a habit will be beneficial to your overall health. According to studies, it is apparent that the decondition process is different between new and experienced exercisers.
Deconditioning in experienced exercisers
According to one article, a sports medicine expert, Elizabeth Quinn, describes a study that compared well-conditioned athletes who have been training for at least a year. Researchers found that when these athletes took a three-month break from exercise, they lost half of their aerobic conditioning. (1)
In addition, an exercise scientist, Wayne Wescott, explained that the more fit a person started off with before the pause, the slower the loss will be. For example, a triathlete on a one or two month break may lose only 5% to 10%, while for new exercisers; it’s a different story. (2)
Deconditioning in new exercisers
In another study, researchers put people on an exercise-training program for two months to determine the result of the loss when exercised ceased. This group of people increased 46% in strength over eight weeks, and then stopped for two months, which resulted in a 23% loss. That’s half of what these people previously gained! (2)
Moreover, in another study a group of sedentary individuals were put on a bicycle-training program for two months and then quit exercising. During the first two months, these people experienced major cardiovascular improvements, however, when they ceased, they lost all of their aerobic gains! (1)
It’s best to cut back than NOT exercise at all
Cutting back on physical activity is much more effective in maintaining some of your fitness progress than to stop exercising. In one study, a group of elite kayakers stopped training for five weeks; they lost about 9% of their muscular power and 11% of their aerobic capacity. However, if the kayakers cut back on training, they lost less than half compared to those who stopped training. (3,4)
In another study, sedentary men who included strength training for three times a week over three months, then cut back to one session per week. The results show that these men maintained nearly all the strength gains they developed in the first three months. (1)
Overall, as we can see in elite athletes and new exercisers, it’s best to reduce the amount of time spent on exercise than not at all. If you’re struggling with any circumstance, just remember that exercise can help you de-stress! A good way to include short bouts of exercise with maximal gains is to consider high intensity interval training. Just don’t make the mistake of believing that your fitness level has no expiration date!
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