Even the most fitness dedicated people go through periods every once in a while where taking time is necessary. This might be travel related, health related, or even emotionally related. Having rest days here and there is crucial for keeping up with your motivation, giving the body time to heal and build muscle, and preventing injury…but too much time off can lead to lost results. So how much time?
Well according to a recent study published in the journal PLOS Genetics, the effects of exercise does not stay with the muscles for months on end. The study began by having sedentary people workout for three months, and then take nine months off. After nine months the positive effects that had occurred in their bodies was completely gone. This lead the researchers to believe that the idea of muscle memory is not as strong as some people think it is.
The study did not, however, look at other systems in the body beyond the muscles, so it’s still unknown if say the heart and cardiovascular system might actually have some memory of its own. They also entertained the idea that other cells in the muscle tissue like stem cells or immune cells could possibly have sort of memory in place, but that they didn’t test those in this particular study either.
Now nine months is a pretty long time to take off from the gym, and if you were going to do that you probably wouldn’t be thinking that you could head back and slaughter a workout like you used to. When it comes to more relevant time frames however there are also some things to consider.
Let’s say you take two weeks off for a trip or something. (Not that that’s a good excuse, you can workout anywhere if you want!) Under two weeks you might notice some changes coming back to your routine like it’s a little harder to breath or something during cardio, but two weeks is the time frame where big changes actually start taking place. After two weeks of being inactive your aerobic activity to start to show noticeable declines.
Aerobic exercise works your heart, lungs, and the rest of the cardiovascular system. When you’re training, your cardiovascular system gets more efficient at pumping new oxygen and blood through the body. After the two week mark that efficiency starts to drop. Some studies have suggested that the VO2 levels (which measure the aerobic capacity) can drop seven percent within 12 days and as much as 20 percent in two weeks.
As for the muscle mass part, you generally won’t start to notice any differences in that for a while. Some studies have suggested that it takes about a month for the muscle fibers to start changing, and that you might not even notice a huge difference for up to ten weeks.
That does not however mean that taking that much time off is the right idea. You’ll still feel it when you head back either way.
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