Taking a vacation for many might mean also taking a vacation from your workout routine. While there’s no denying the appeal of rest and relaxation, including a day off from your regular routine, two new studies might have you rethinking skipping your sweat sessions for the long term.
Reported in the New York Times, the two studies, one of which was published in Diabetologia in June, and the other which was published in The Journals of Gerontology in July, looked at the effects of physical inactivity amongst adult men and women who were previously regularly active.
For the first study, participants were asked to reduce their steps from 10,000 or more to below 2,000 and were asked to sit for an additional three and a half hours over the course of two weeks.
The results? Researchers discovered “metabolic derangements” during the volunteers’ sedentary two weeks. Their blood sugar levels had risen, in addition, their cholesterol profiles become less healthy, and they had lost some muscle mass in their legs.
The derangements were reversed once the volunteers started regularly exercising again.
The second study found similar results. Using overweight seniors who already were at risk of developing diabetes due to high blood sugar but were otherwise active, averaging about 7,000 to 8,000 steps per day, researchers asked volunteers to reduce their steps to below 1,000 a day for two weeks. Then, for another two weeks, they were asked to resume their activity normally.
During the inactive two weeks, researchers discovered blood sugar control had worsened, along with loss of muscle mass, and some had even developed Type 2 diabetes. Even after two weeks of resuming activity some of the worse metabolic changes weren’t reversed for the most of the participants.
So what does this mean? Can we never take a break from exercise again out of fear that our health will decline?
“There is certainly a great deal of truth to the findings from these two studies,” says Dr. David Greuner of NYC Surgical Associates. “If you stop moving around, or significantly decrease how much you do, your body will be negatively affected with higher blood sugar and potential symptoms of diabetes.”
He notes that your body is likely negatively affected because other unhealthy habits, such as a diet high in processed foods, will remain the same, or might even be increased, when you stop working out.
“When you go on vacation, you typically indulge in more unhealthy activities such as heavier drinking, consistent snacking, and larger meals due to eating at restaurants,” he says. “Exercise is something that could attempt to counteract the effects of living an unhealthy lifestyle, but now that it is removed, there is nothing to turn around a cheat week.”
While taking a week off to rest and recharge your body from a rigorous routine can be rejuvenating, Dr. Greuner notes that if you can’t participate in some sort of movement, then it’s important to eat healthy and not to overindulge yourself.
Can’t commit to staying away from the buffet table during your vacation? Dr. Greuner recommends then taking a leisurely walk two or three times throughout your time off to maintain a balance.
If you do end up taking time off from exercising, Dr. Greuner says that while losing muscle, or beginning to, will likely happen, it can be gained back once you return into the swing of things the following week.
However, in order to maintain the important internal balance, Dr. Greuner stresses that you have to be careful how you eat.
“The loss of muscle mass can slow down your metabolism, so you should have some meals that boost it up. Foods that are high in protein, iron, zinc, and selenium speed up your metabolism.”
It should be noted that both studies looked at older adults, as opposed to young healthy adults whose metabolisms can probably withstand a week or two of inactivity before swiftly reversing any potential consequences.
However, Dr. Greuner says that if exercising is something you do regularly, “You likely shouldn’t go more than a week otherwise you’ll set yourself back rather far. If you can squeeze in some push ups, sit ups, or a quick run while on vacation. It’ll help you stay on track when you return.”
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