What Happens To Your Body When You Stop Exercising

Discover what the effects are after days, weeks, months...

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Let’s face it. Regular exercise is hard. But how long does it take for your body to “notice” that you’ve stopped hitting the gym? Here’s what happens to your body and mind when you take a break from working out.

If This Doesn’t Persuade You Back Into The Gym, Nothing Will


Many fitness enthusiasts find the idea of taking a day off as a device of Satan. But rest and recovery is what makes us stronger. It is the rest that allows the muscles that you have broken down to heal and recover. Taking 1 or 2 days off will allow your body to recover, so you can be stronger and be better at handling heavier weights, and the increasing number of sets and reps needed to achieve your goals.


Within about a week, your muscles lose some of their fat-burning potentials, and your metabolism slows down from inactivity. If you do not burn off the food you consume, it will gradually start to store as fat within your body.

Findings in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research showed a 5-week exercise break boosted collegiate swimmers’ fat mass by 12 percent! 


Do you gasp for breath after just a few stairs?

Aerobic exercise works your heart and lungs. Within two weeks of avoiding the gym, your VO2 max, and the heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently start to decline. “VO2 max” measures a person’s capacity to take in, transport, and then use oxygen during exercise. Research shows that when you stop exercising, VO2 max decreases by as much as 20 percent!

Also, if you have recently started a workout plan, your fitness gains could evaporate completely. The reason behind it is that you lose mitochondria, which are the mini-factories within your muscle cells that convert oxygen into energy.

Cardio conditioning falls quicker than your muscle strength; however, it’s a lot easier to regain.


For a regular exerciser who lifts a few times a week, taking some time off won’t cause much loss to strength and muscle mass. Research suggests that muscle strength fibers remain unchanged after a month of inactivity, but you may see a loss of sport-specific power.

When it comes to strength training, detraining isn’t quite as noticeable. However, you will likely feel weaker. It takes coordination, and muscle memory to lift. Therefore feeling out of sync and not as confident can make lifting heavy weights feel much harder than usual.


The fitter you are, the sooner you’ll notice signs of detraining. But the less likely you are to decline back to where you started.

It seems unfair, right? However, since your body is more adapted to constant training at a higher level, you’ll notice signs of detraining a lot sooner than someone who works out irregularly or at a much lower intensity.

The fitter you are, the harder you fall.

But while you’ll notice the difference sooner. After that initial drop off, losses will be more gradual than for a beginner.


When you’re used to regular exercise, and you suddenly stop working out, you’ll likely start to notice increases in body fat. Also, you are likely at risk for weight gain, especially if you don’t make dietary changes when you quit exercising.


Muscle cells don’t convert into fat! Muscle cells, which are completely different than fat cells, actually become smaller, since you don’t have a demand for power and strength. They simply don’t grow. Meanwhile, the fat cells grow larger, which causes a change in one’s appearance.

The 2010 study found that highly-trained athletes who ceased their workouts entirely had increases in body fat after five weeks. Another study published in 2014 in the journal PLOS One found that soccer players who de-trained for six weeks had increases in body fat and body weight.

However, ceasing workouts does not necessarily mean that you will gain weight. If you control or reduce your calorie intake, you can prevent weight gain or even lose weight.


Because exercise is known to help lower blood pressure, it’s no surprise that stopping your regular workouts can cause increases in blood pressure. Stiffening arteries and veins send your BP back to where it would be if you’d never even left the couch.

A study published in 2014 in PLOS One found that blood pressure increases to pre-training levels after just two weeks of exercise cessation. However, just because you stop exercising doesn’t mean you’re certain to have high blood pressure. There are other ways to lower or control blood pressure, such as reducing dietary sodium, achieving or maintaining a healthy body weight, and managing stress according to the American Heart Association.



What’s most disturbing is what happens to your brain. The image below shows a dramatic increase in brain activity after a 20-minute walk, compared to sitting quietly for the same amount of time.


Several neurotransmitters, such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, and GABA are all triggered by exercise. Some of these are well known for their role in mood control. Exercise is one of the most effective preventions and treatment strategies for depression.

BDNF and endorphins are two of the primary factors triggered by exercise that help boost your mood, make you feel good, and sharpen your cognition. Your mental health can suffer as a result of inactivity, negatively affecting your self-esteem, making you tired, unable to concentrate, irritable, and gloomy.

Further research shows less blood flow to regions of the brain, including the hippocampus, which is involved in memory.


As we age and over time, we need to work harder to maintain our fitness. Muscle groups will weaken if they are not continuously developed. In the absence of weight-bearing activity, the bones are more susceptible to becoming brittle. Also, you will be more at risk of osteoporosis.


Get off that couch and get back on a consistent exercise routine! Whether you stopped exercising due to an injury, illness, lack of motivation, or pure laziness, you can always get back on track! The consequences of “detraining” included in this blog will undoubtedly encourage you to start working out again. There’s a difference between breaking up with exercise for good and taking a well-intentioned rest. 


Just thirty minutes of daily aerobic activity can strengthen your heart, and improve your whole body as well as core mobility. It’s better to get in a few, short, high-intensity workouts than skipping exercising completely.

Make a conscious decision to begin and continue a structured exercise routine, but remember to maintain a balance and allow time for recovery too. Don’t quit moving altogether—your body, brain, and waistline will thank you.


p style=”text-align: center”>Read further on how your body changes once you start eating healthy.

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Spartan Race Training Plan
Our comprehensive training plan provides you with 30-days of exercises right up to race day!
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Wiktoria Banda

Wiktoria is a content writer and illustrator at Shape.
Download Our FREE
Spartan Race Training Plan
Our comprehensive training plan provides you with 30-days of exercises right up to race day!
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