What Happens to Your Body When You Stop (and Resume) Exercising

Consistency, balance and moderation are important factors in maintaining your ideal weight, health, fitness level and body shape.  You can’t just stop moving, and if ever you will, it is important to be aware of the processes that will take place once you stop and resume to your usual physical activities. For the past 17 years, I’ve been monitoring weight and body composition of my clients, combined with research and personal experience, I came up with these explanations that can answer the common concerns once you STOP and RETURN to your active lifestyle.

From active to sedentary…

Various processes take place inside and outside the body once you stop exercising

Abandoning your exercise routine due to unforeseen reasons like change of priorities, workload, laziness, injury, travel and other life matters will result in physiological changes that can be experienced as early as one week. However, the rate of detraining will always depend on your fitness level – if you quit right away just after a month of exercising, you can see the changes faster, but if you’ve been fit and active for six months or more, the effects can be felt on a much later stage. That’s why I always emphasize the importance of movement even while at home and during vacation.

  • You can feel that your body is softer, not as toned as before because you stopped using your muscles for pushing, pulling, lifting, running, dancing, cycling or other physical activities you used to do.
  • Excess calorie intake will result in weight gain, but this time you have more body fat because you don’t move as much, your muscles are shrinking, your metabolism is lower and eating the same or more amount of food than your intake during your active days will result in accumulation of extra fat.
  • You can see that some parts of your body like waist, thighs, arms or back are expanding, because extra fat cells, as a result of weight gain, are now concentrated on a particular body area, depending on your genes.
  • Lower calorie-intake can result in over-all weight loss, including your muscles, but once you resume to normal eating, you can gain the weight faster because your metabolism or the fat-burning capacity of your body is lower.
  • Your endurance is deteriorating and you can feel how your heart rate goes up easily after climbing a flight of stairs (your resting heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar are also higher).
  • Your moods are also affected, not the same as before, when you were always on a high during and after a good workout.
  • You can experience  joint and muscle aches and pains, especially in the low back area, because core is not being constantly engaged anymore.

Once you resume exercising …

Gradually return to your active lifestyle by modifying and adjusting your exercise intensity

You might be too excited to exercise again because of a renewed motivation, strengthened with your new set of goals. Always listen to your body and don’t overdo your workouts. Be patient and results will come.

  • Your heart rate will increase quickly, so it is important to have longer warm-ups and cool-downs, and workouts should be done in moderation. Before engaging in high-intensity workouts, condition your body to do a week or more of low to moderate-intensity workouts like walking, jogging, dancing and moderate resistance training. Modify your workouts so you can safely adjust to a whole new exercise stimulus. I highly recommend that you monitor your heart rate during an exercise, by checking your pulse or using a fitness tracker.
  • Average calorie burn per exercise will be higher than your same old workouts because your body will making enough effort to catch up with exercise load and intensity (higher heart rate).
  • You can’t expect to carry the same amount of weight or to complete the same number of repetitions as you used to during your strength training session. Returning exercisers should start with lighter weights and with less frequent and shorter workout sessions to avoid injuries and health problems.
  • After an exercise session, it will take some time for your heart rate to return to its resting level because your body will still be working harder even after a session. Recover well by getting 7-8 hours of sleep and by supplying your body with a well-balanced post-exercise snack or meal consisting of carb, protein and fat like a sandwich or a full meal with grain, veggies and viand.

After one to two workout days…

Muscle soreness usually starts a day or two after a new (and challenging) workout routine

Your body is undergoing several physiological processes that can affect your metabolism, body composition, appetite and body sensations. Always be physically, emotionally and mentally prepared to new adjustments.

  • You can feel muscle soreness in various parts of the body that you didn’t use for a long time. Most people attribute effective workouts to sore muscles, but in reality, the most unused muscles are the ones that usually ache the most (also depending on the over-all muscular effort). If your muscles are not sore after an exercise, it just means that your body is efficient in resisting exercise loads, not because your workout is useless or ineffective.
  • You may experience temporary heaviness due to your newly pumped muscles, so don’t panic if your weight remains steady during the first week of workout. For sure, weight will drop once your muscles get accustomed to your workouts (while managing your food intake and rest as well).
  • Your appetite will increase because your metabolism will be faster again, so always make healthy foods available and eat on time to avoid hunger pangs.

After a month of consistent workouts…

You can reverse the effects of your previous sedentary lifestyle. Aside from lifestyle activities like walking, accomplishing two to three times a week of weight training and 30-45 minutes a day of cardiovascular activities for one whole month will give you amazing results.

  • You will get significant positive health results.
  • You will regain your endurance, flexibility,  stamina and muscular strength.
  • Your moods will be significantly better.
  • You will be more in control of your eating and exercise habits.
  • You will have more muscle mass and less body fat, your metabolism will be faster, so quality weight loss (more body fat loss than water loss) will be continuously achieved.
  • You will feel tighter and you will have more muscle tone in your shoulders, arms, back, lower body and abs.
  • You’re over-all lifestyle will be better ….your life will be easier.

It’s never too late. You can start right now. Just imagine the health and fitness results you can experience if you become a consistent exerciser in the next 12 months …. and as long as you live. There’s no reason to stop moving.

YES, you can do this. I am with you.

Mitch Felipe-Mendoza

Mitch created the website positivebody.ph as a result of her intense passion for healthy living and wellness. She has been in the health and fitness industry for more than 18 years. She holds a master's degree and pyschology and is a licensed physical therapist. She is an American Council Council on Exercise (ACE) certified health and lifestyle coach, personal trainer and group fitness instructor.

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