Illustration / DANIEL CASTIÑEIRAS

What happens to your body if you stop taking exercise?

There will be evident changes within one month

ISAAC ASENJO

All the studies carried out into the effects of physical exercise agree that it is good for one's health. Science has shown that it lowers the risk of cardiovascular illnesses, obesity and diabetes, reduces the likelihood of developing some types of cancer, reduces the risk of suffering from stress and Alzheimer's, alleviates symptoms of depression, and without a doubt our bodies appreciate it.

But what happens if we are used to exercising and then we stop the activity that was doing us so much good? How long do we reap the benefits of the past before our bodies start to get worse - inside and out? Has anyone ever wondered whether stopping sport while on holiday for a month might cause damage? Many people will think it makes no difference...well, experts have some bad news for them.

Although there is no harm in stopping for a short while every now and then - in fact, it's necessary, experts say - the advances achieved are rapidly lost. This is what happens to our body when we suddenly stop what has been quite a regular exercise routine.

After a week with no sport

The consequences of a week's break from exercise will be minimal, says Marcos Vázquez, author of the popular blog Fitness Revolucionario which has won numerous awards for its health advice.

Although he points out that giving up regular physical exercise increases the risk of cardiovascular illnesses, chronic conditions and metabolic disorders, among others deriving from the lack of movement," he also admits that in a short space of time the cardiovascular system, maximum volume of oxygen the body can process during exercise and the musculature will not be affected.

This means that exercise fanatics who get very stressed if they go on holiday for a week and can't follow their normal routine can breathe easily: the consequences take longer to occur and would be more or less intense depending on age, gender, the type of exercise and the frequency with which it is done.

Two weeks without training

This is the point at which our body would suffer if we went back to exercising, which is why experts recommend not stopping for any longer than this unless we want to suffer. Nevertheless, someone who is accustomed to doing sport will find it easier to get back to it after a break: the body retains several physiological and neurological adaptations which make it easier to recover physical ability.

A month of sedentary lifestyle

When a month has passed our physical fitness level drops by 10 to 15 per cent, especially in the form of muscular loss and general performance, Vázquez says.

José Antonio Latorre Rodríguez, a lecturer in Health Sciences studies, says that after four weeks with no exercise the body has lower tolerance for effort and tires more easily due to a drop in aerobic capacity.

"Imbalances in body composition and body fat also contribute to this," he explains. This can be more or less evident depending on the lifestyle someone maintains after giving up the exercise: for example, if we eat healthily it will take longer for us to notice the negative consequences. So instead of seeing them after two weeks, we will do so a while later.

Two months without exercise: a slower metabolism

After two months with no exercise the loss of muscle strength will be around 20 per cent, everyday activities will take more effort - we will tire more easily - and our metabolism will slow down. "Because we are doing less exercising and are losing muscle mass we use fewer calories and there is less glucose uptake by the muscles. This contributes to metabolic problems and makes it easier to accumulate fat," Vázquez says.

Any other negative effects? "We will feel generally more tired due to the drop in hormonal wellbeing compounds that appear after taking exercise. They form a type of happiness cocktail, made up of endorphins, acetylcholine, serotonin and dopamine," Latorre explains.

Ten weeks at a standstill

After this amount of time there is a notable increase in adiposity, a clear loss of strength, joint mobility has decreased considerably and so has motor coordination.

"Clinical research has shown that a lack of physical activity affects nearly all the systems in our bodies," sums up professor Manuel Jiménez López, a doctor in human physiology and physical activity and sport at the International University of La Rioja.

That is why, if we decide to take up exercise again after these ten weeks without it, we will feel tired very quickly because the lungs will not be able to absorb as much oxygen as they did before.

We will also be slower and clumsier. If we continue not to exercise, the decline will intensify. In this respect, Dr Jímenez López emphasises that physical exercise is a weapon that directly combats two of the main causes of death in the world: hypertension and hyperglycemia.