The weather is hot, the gym is closed, and you’ve been relaxing – enjoying the lazy, hazy days of summer. Taking a day off here and there is no problem. However, if you’ve been consistently missing your regular run, bike ride, or gym session and notice some aches and pains showing up, you might have the beginnings of deconditioning.
Exercise creates many changes in your body. First, your heart begins to pump blood more efficiently. Secondly, your muscles use oxygen more efficiently and contract in a more coordinated manner. Thirdly, your body gets more efficient turning food into fuel. These are just a few of these changes. Deconditioning is the reversing of these changes. Exercise is a “use it or lose it” kind of thing, and deconditioning is the process by which we “lose it.”
How long does it take to decondition?
As with most things related to a system as complex as the human body, it depends. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, two weeks without exercise can lead to significant loss of cardiovascular fitness. As a result, two to eight months of not training can erase virtually all of your gains. As you stop training, cardiovascular fitness declines first, then muscle strength declines later.
Other factors that influence deconditioning are your age and your exercise history. If you’re younger, you’ll probably lose fitness at a slower rate than someone older. If you’ve been consistently exercising for a long time, or at a high intensity, your losses will probably be slower than for someone who just started.
Reversing the losses
If you’re undergoing a period of increased time commitments at work or with family, using a shortened exercise routine can help. Even one session a week will help you keep most of what you’ve gained. Other options are to use shorter but more intense interval training sessions or breaking up your activity into multiple short chunks during the day. If your layoff was longer, it may take just as long to retrain as it did to make the gains initially. Are you starting to have aches and pains due to inactivity? Do you need help designing a safe program to either maintain your fitness or gain it back after a layoff? Your physical therapist can help.
Injury and illness are other common reasons for not exercising. Your PT can n help you recover faster and they can find activities to maintain your fitness while safely recovering from an injury or illness.