What will happen to the office plants over the next 12 weeks with no one there to feed or water them? What will happen to your body if you have given up on exercise just because your gym has shut? To really understand what happens to your body when you neglect it, it helps to have an appreciation of how it gets into shape.
If you have ever attempted the couch to 5k or similar, you will know that once the initial hurdle of getting your ‘arse’ moving has been cleared, it only takes a couple of sessions for you to feel fitter and have more energy. The science behind this outcome, is covered in A levels and degree courses, but here is the simplified version. Each cell in your body contains a ‘power generator’ known as mitochondria, whose job is to turn oxygen and nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP powers the metabolic activities of your cells. What is significant for you to know is that after just a couple of workouts, the mitochondrial activity in your cells will increase rapidly. As your cells have more mitochondrial activity, your energy production will become more efficient, thus making exercise easier from this point forward. Plus, you will feel a significant improvement in your general health & wellbeing as mitochondria also protect your cells and make them stronger.
It takes around 4 weeks of regular training and by this we mean exercising for three to five hours per week before changes in your muscle mass will finally become visible and your muscles will grow stronger.
With the increase in muscle mass and improvements in fitness levels, your metabolic rate will also start to increase. Having a faster metabolism means burning more calories whilst resting with the potential to change shape and lose weight.
As your fitness improves, you will be able to step up a gear, walking, running faster, further or increasing the intensity of your gym workout with higher reps, heavier weights and longer sessions. This will not only raise your fitness another notch, but with the increased release of endorphins from your brain, you will find yourself in a happier place. Your heart will also grow stronger and become more efficient, lowering resting heart rate and decreasing your blood pressure, which will significantly lower the risk of heart attack.
Movement is medicine!
Much of what we have discussed so far assumes that there is an underlying level of fitness to begin with, but what if you are in pain and discomfort, can exercise help? According to research from Nuffield Health there is an estimated three million people in the UK taking long-term sick leave or unable to work due to back pain, plus up to six million people living with undiagnosed back pain, which could be avoided or treated with advice, therapy or exercise.
It isn’t only those who perform ‘heavy’ manual work for a living that are in danger, those who sit at a desk all day also are at increased risk since their abdominal and back muscles become weak. According to the 2014 Review, Prevention of Low Back Pain by Dr Maher et al. exercise can play a significant role in helping those with lower back pain. According to Dr Maher "exercise strengthens the muscles that support and control the spine, meaning that your spine is better able to cope with the load that you put on it during daily life, secondly the tissues that make up the spine, ligaments, discs and bones need regular movement and activity to stay strong and healthy." Exercise, movement and motion are our medicine; they should become our daily prescription for healthy living.
What happens now?
Once your exercise routine becomes a habit and you have become used to enjoying the benefits of feeling fit and healthy with lots of energy, chances are you will likely find that it becomes a way of life. But what happens if an injury, illness, or ‘life’ gets in the way? What happens to your health and wellbeing once your fitness plans have been derailed?
Where did it go?
Injuries aside, the loss of cardiovascular fitness will be the first thing you notice, followed by declines in muscle structure, power, agility, strength, mobility, stamina, and coordination. Your body starts to lower the number of extra red blood cells it creates, since you are not recruiting them anymore. After a week or so they will be back to normal, pre workout levels. On top of this, the mitochondrial density in your muscle mass can decrease by 50% over the course of a week. Andreas Bergdahl, assistant professor in cardiovascular physiology at Montreal’s Concordia University believes the rate of loss is largely dependent on age. The older we are, the quicker we lose our muscle mass, once you have reached the age of 55, this can equate to 1 pound, (0.5 kilo) of muscle per year.
What have I done?
With the reduction in number and size of muscle cells combined with the increase in size of fat cells, you will start to see changes in your appearance. The lean and toned presence that you worked hard to achieve, begins to fade. If you adopt a completely sedentary lifestyle, you may become prone to a whole host of related health complications, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, plus issues with joints and ligaments that are no longer experiencing the movement repertoire that they so need.
The psychological and emotional impact from the absence of physical activity can probably cause greater harm to the individual. The lack of exercise has led to psychological effects, including depression and lower self-esteem.
It appears that the sudden adoption of a sedentary lifestyle, especially after a phase of regular training or exercise, has an extremely adverse effect on the body.
It’s not all bad!
Fortunately, your muscle ‘memory’ remains for a long time, so the healthier and better shape you were in to begin with means the less time it will take to get back to where you want to be! Your muscle fibres “remember” previous training movements so that when you get back to exercising after a prolonged layoff, you are able regain lost muscle swiftly.
With a bit of gentle coaxing and consistency, your muscles, blood vessels, and lungs will get back in to shape and maybe you will lose some weight in the process.
Naturally, the longer you go without exercise, the longer the process of recovery, but if you follow these guidelines, you will help you get back to feeling healthy and vibrant in no time.
Gradually ease back into your workouts to avoid injury.
Slowly build up to a less-intense version of your regular workout, before ploughing into the ‘intense’ version you were performing before your respite.
Patience and dedication are crucial, remember, you can regain your fitness, it just needs time and investment. Small setbacks and minor blips are just part and parcel of your quest for healthy active lifestyle.
Two roads diverged in a wood -Which path should you take?
When you are stand in front of an elevator, there are often just two buttons that you can press, one goes up and one goes down. When it comes to our health and wellbeing the scenario is very much the same. Doing nothing will only result in diminishing returns, whereas investing in your health and wellbeing has so many positives, not just physical, but mental and emotional benefits abound. As in all aspects of life, we have a choice, which button will you press today?
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