In three days, you’re just a little winded but in five weeks, you’ve already gained weight and lost muscle

By Ea Francisco | Lead photo by Victor Freitas/Unsplash | Illustrations by Lara Intong

There’s nothing wrong with taking a day off from exercising, but when that day off suddenly becomes a month off, then you should be worried. We can’t always help it if we have to skip a day or two, but don’t take a break for too long. Your hard-earned body can easily revert to its previous state within weeks. From the day you stop to months later, here’s what happens.

After A Day: Rise in Blood Pressure

Skipping exercise for a day isn’t so bad but just so you know, but getting your heart rate up even a little is still necessary if you want change. Your blood pressure changes quickly depending on what you do. According to Linda Pescatello from the University of Connecticut, arteries temporarily increase in size during exercise because it has to accommodate the increase in blood flow. It stays that way for 24 hours and if you don’t get your heart rate going even for a little while, then your blood pressure goes back to what it was before. If you want your blood pressure to stay on a healthy level though, you need daily movement for your arteries to adapt.


After Three Days: Decreased Muscle Mass

You won’t be able to see any physical changes right away, but you’ll definitely feel it. Elite Daily says that no physical activity will make your muscle mass decrease. Your muscle fibers will get tired more easily, and you might not have as much strength when you hit the gym again. It says that muscles that aren’t used in everyday activities, like the abdomen, go down first while the muscles used for walking, like the hamstrings, lose tone slower. This can still be prevented by doing light exercises, so the effect is still short-term.


After Five Days: Spike in Blood Sugar

Exercise usually makes your muscle absorb glucose for energy and as a result, it keeps your blood sugar low. If you stay sedentary for five days, your blood sugar stays elevated after you eat according to Men’s Health. If this keeps up, you’re increasing your risks for heart disease and diabetes. Luckily, one week of consistent exercise significantly lowers your blood sugar level and reverts this effect.


After Two Weeks: Cardio Loss

stop exercise

Endurance will be the first to worsen. Around 10 to 14 days, your VO2 max—your maximum amount of oxygen intake—starts to decrease. This would actually start to reflect on your performance because it affects your cardio and endurance. A study by the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that VO2 can drop to around seven percent after 12 days. It appears that VO2 deteriorates more and more every 12 days so by a month, you can expect around a 14 percent decrease in endurance performance.


After Three to Four Weeks: Strength Loss

You would lose your strength a lot slower than your endurance, but your muscle fibers would show considerable change after a month. According to Outside Online, losing muscle doesn’t necessarily mean losing strength. Muscle mass can decline as early as two weeks, but studies show that those who regularly exercise can still retain strength even after three weeks of no training.


After Five to Six Weeks: Weight Gain

By this time, you’ll start to notice physical change or some larger numbers on the scale. A study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that competitive swimmers who didn’t train for five weeks saw a 12 percent increase in body fat. Exercise physiologist Harry Pino says this is because your muscles stop growing and get smaller whereas fat gets larger, making you go from lean to bloated.

It’s okay if you can’t do your intense workout for a day or two as long as you remember to do at least the bare minimum for the day. Even on rest days, you still need to be a little active. There are a lot of alternative exercises you can do with just a short amount of time, so don’t use your busy schedule as an excuse to quit.