Recently I was frustrated with myself because I wasn’t working out as much as I liked to. This was mainly because I was getting busier in my freelance writing business. But I also needed to build up my work out frequency since I couldn’t work out during the meditation retreat.
Not being able to work out for ten consecutive days is the most I’ve ever stopped working out for the past four years. And I felt terrible about it. I was feeling less happy, calm and fulfilled overall.
Then I started to question what else had changed while I stopped working out. Did I lose a lot of muscle and did I gain fat? Those questions arose in me when I started thinking about it. So, while I figured out what would happen when you stop working out consistently, I thought about sharing it with you.
1. Decline Physical Fitness
The first and most obvious consequence of ceasing to work out is the decline in physical fitness. You’re easier out of breath when you’re doing something. I noticed this when I had to walk the stairs again after two weeks of not having to. It wasn’t like I was entirely out of breath, but I noticed the difference in heart rate.
The science behind this phenomenon is that your VO2 max — an indicator that describes how much oxygen your body can consume — drops after you stop working out. After only two weeks without training your VO2 max drops with 20%.
For regular gym goers, this percentage will be less. But for those who started working out recently, this can even mean that they will lose all their fitness gains. The mitochondria — cells that break everything down and converts it to energy –in your muscles will deplete after you stop working out and it takes six weeks of endurance training to get it all back.
All of this basically means that your level of physical fitness (endurance) decreases, already after two weeks you’ve stopped working out. Besides that, you will also lose your muscle gains and strength which can affect your physical appearance.
2. Acceleration of Aging
As people age, aerobic capacity, muscle quality, as well as agility naturally decline. But when you exercise, you slow this process down. So, when you stop training, this process will happen faster than when you were exercising.
The four best predictors for longevity are (according to Greg Hickey):
- Lean muscle mass
- Leg strength
- Cardiorespiratory endurance
- Physical mobility and flexibility
All these longevity predictors happen through regular exercise. When you quit exercising regularly, you will age faster.
3. Lose Your Strength
If you’re into strength training, this can be a consequence you might want to avoid. Also, being weak and old can lead to severe falls that can break you like glass.
After only one month of stopping to train, you will lose a significant amount of your strength. Doing groceries or even pulling yourself out of a chair can become a lot harder when you’re sitting around for a month.
Although this happens to everyone who quits working out, the people who were training the most amount of time before stopping can easily regain strength. Made possible by the wonderful phenomenon called ‘muscle memory.’ Your muscles remember how to grow to allow such strength gains to occur.
If you’re reading this while you quit working out for some time and you think it doesn’t make sense to get back into it right now, you’re wrong! Get your ass up and work out those muscles, believe me, you’ll feel good afterward.
4. Gain Fat
We all know that exercise can help you lose fat and gain muscle, but when you stop you can actually gain fat. This is not only due to the reason you don’t exercise in a certain way anymore, but there’s also much more to it.
Researchers found that when someone stops working out, the whole body composition changes with it. You will gain more weight and lose muscle mass which results in more fat.
The required amount of calories you need to consume decreases when you stop training. Then your muscle mass will decrease, but you’ll gain weight which means that you’re gaining fat. If you don’t adjust your calorie intake, you will gain more because you’re not burning anything anymore.
5. Higher Blood Sugar Levels
Working out depletes your muscle glycogen levels while food increases it again. When you quit working out, after five days, your glucose levels will stay high. This means high blood sugar levels, a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Researchers found that after one week of regular exercise, your glucose levels after meals will drop significantly. It’s easy to reverse it but to motivate you I will list some things that can happen when blood sugar is high. We’ve already talked about the increase of risk for heart disease and diabetes, but there’s more.
Long-term hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) can cause:
- Skin infections
- Worse vision
- Slower healing wounds
- Nerve damage
- Erectile dysfunction
- Loss of hair
- Intestinal problems
6. Brain Decline
While you will notice most of these consequences immediately, you may not notice that your mind is also experiencing a setback. After only two weeks without exercise, your brain will take a big hit. Especially in the laziness area.
Although research on humans is limited, a study found that rats who stopped moving for a week grew less new brain cells and performed worse on maze tests.
The benefits of working out on the overall brain health are enormous. Exercising helps with learning, memory, depression, metabolism and vascular function. When you quit working out, you will experience the opposite.
7. You Are A Grumpy Person
When you quit working out for only two weeks, you will feel like a grumpy fool. You’ll become easily annoyed, tired and depressed. This is a combination of the decline in your brain and how you will feel when you quit working out.
First of all, when you work out, your body releases all kinds of endorphins which make you feel happy and calm. Working out consistently will also boost your overall mood levels, but when you quit, it won’t be there anymore.
After quite some time, you may even become anxious. Michael Otto talks in his book (Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being) about how exercise helps you handle stress easier by getting your fight-or-flight response under control. When you stop working out, this means that you will respond heavier to all triggers, thus making you a more anxious person. And if anxiety wasn’t worse enough, it can also cause depression.
To summarize it all, you quit any form of exercise; you become a miserable person. And when you’ve never exercised in your life, it can only get better from here on out.
3 Tips To Keep Working Out When You Feel Like Quitting
Now that you know what happens when you quit working out, you should also know how to keep going or getting back at it, even though you may not feel like it. So, below I’ve listed a couple of tips to keep you on the right track and feel good about yourself. Yes, it’s going to take some work on your part, but it also doesn’t mean that you have to commit at least 10 hours a week to working out intensely (like I do).
My advice is pretty simple actually. First and foremost, keep working out (or any other form of exercise) at least one day (preferably two days) a week for a minimum of 20 minutes. Yeah, that’s right, 20 minutes of exercise a week (you can even get away with 12 minutes a week).
If you’re going to do the bare minimum, you should apply carb cycling to your diet. This basically means that you should consume more carbs on your training days and less on your non-training days. That way you will minimize fat storage when you’re not burning your carbs but maximize your energy when you have to train. Even if you’re a vegan, this is still the best approach.
Last but not least, work out with your goal in mind. Do you want to increase your longevity, gain more muscle, lose fat or increase endurance? Whatever it is, make sure your workout fits your goals, this makes your training more effective.
For example, if you want to gain muscle and you’re doing three 20-minute sprints per week, it won’t be the most effective way to gain muscle. The better way to gain muscle would be through resistance training focused on hypertrophy.
* This article contains affiliate links which means that I will get a commission from those products if you decide to buy one through my link. To learn more about this, visit my affiliate disclosure.
 Europe PMC: Effect of training on the decline of VO2max with aging.
 Springer Link: Exercise, Mobility and Aging
 The American Journal of Medicine: Muscle Mass Index As a Predictor of Longevity in Older Adults
 Wiley Online Library: Muscle strength as a predictor of long‐term survival in severe congestive heart failure
 European Journal of Preventive Cardiology: Ability to sit and rise from the floor as a predictor of all-cause mortality
 Journal of Applied Physiology: Effects of exercise and lack of exercise on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity
 Science Direct: Exercise builds brain health: key roles of growth factor cascades and inflammation
I’m Marnix, and I’m a blogger, freelance content writer/marketer, and online entrepreneur.
On this blog, I help people become the best versions of themselves by finding their true selves through self-development. Sharing my knowledge, I learn(ed) in my personal life journey.
As a freelance content writer/marketer I help business/blogs spread their message through content that gets seen so many more people can benefit from it. If you’re interested in working with me, go to www.marnixbuijs.com