A busy schedule, a vacation, or an injury can interrupt your workout routine, but have you thought about the long-term effects of a brief break? If you’re like most people, probably not. You can always hop back on, right? Unfortunately, it seems that even a short interruption can make you lose both muscle strength and mass.
“For physically fit individuals, just two weeks of being inactive resulted in a loss of significant muscle strength.”
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark found that for physically fit individuals, just two weeks of being inactive resulted in a loss of significant muscle strength. Young people saw about a 30% loss of muscle strength – the equivalent of aging by 40 or 50 years – while active older people saw a reduction of about 25% muscle strength.
Muscle mass was reduced, too. Two weeks of being immobile resulted in a 17-ounce loss of muscle in young men and a 9-ounce loss of muscle in older men, a particular concern when you factor in sarcopenia – the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass (0.5–1% loss per year after the age of 50), quality, and strength associated with aging.
And to regain muscle mass? The participants had to train on a bike three to four times a week for six weeks – three times the length of inactivity – and while muscle mass was regained, it wasn’t enough to regain original muscle strength without additional weight training.
So what can you do to maintain muscle mass and strength?
Make Exercise a Habit that’s Hard to Break
What can you do to reinforce getting exercise? Studies have shown you can make exercise a hard habit to break simply by being consistent for about two months.
Use an App to Strengthen Adherence
Want to work out regularly? There’s an app for that! Awareness is a key step toward changing behaviors and what better way to do that than by tracking? Fitness apps like FitBit force you to track your exercise and eating habits and raise awareness about your healthy habits. End results? Their use strengthens exercise adherence.
Exercise First Thing in the Morning
The longer the day goes on, the greater the likelihood that something might happen to derail your exercise plans – staying late at work, happy hour, a dinner invitation. By getting exercise knocked out in the morning, you’ll not only ensure you get your workout but also boost your energy levels for whatever the rest of the day brings.
Never Skip Exercising for More than Three Days in a Row
If you’ve skipped a day or two, make sure you exercise on the third day. Once that third day hits, it’s a slippery slope where three days turns into a week, a month, and on and on.
Set a Designated Day/Time
By scheduling your workout, you’ll make it far less likely to skip out. And a schedule helps you feel in control of things, making it far more likely that you’ll be persistent and achieve your exercise goals.
Exercise Even When You’re Tired
Cut yourself a deal that if you’re really exhausted 10 minutes into the routine, then you’ll quit. More often than not, you’ll find that you can “muscle through” and feel great when you’re done.
Enlist a Workout Buddy
Are you a social butterfly? By making a workout more social, you’ll be more likely to enjoy it and 80% more likely to stick to it. And studies show a partner can help you reach your fitness goals better than going it solo.
Hire a Personal Trainer
What better partner than a personal trainer who can fashion the ideal workout for you? And by working with a professional, you’re far less likely to be derailed by injury. Also, by putting your money on the line, there’ll be a greater sense of accountability.
Learn to Love It
Make exercise fun, not a chore! If you enjoy dancing, incorporate that into your workout. Or if you love the beach, set that as the scene for your workout. Jogging, biking, and beach volleyball are great. If you love it, you’ll do it!
Focus on the Benefits
In addition to building lean muscles, increasing strength, and resulting in better overall health, regular exercise will Improve mood, help you sleep better, and even improve your libido!
Make Exercise Convenient
Make it easy on yourself. Join a gym that is close by or ask a trainer to help you design a shorter but effective workout routine. This way, you can always fit a workout into your schedule.
Maintaining your health and body takes consistent work, so keep working at it to stay lean and strong for a lifetime!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.