Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 21st 2015 Contents A46
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Friday, August 21, 2015
There are those of us who, if we miss a
week of exercise, catastrophize and somehow
feel that we have lost some of our fitness.
There are also those of us who have missed
months, and even years of exercise, and find
it extremely difficult to re-enter into a fitness
routine because even a 15 minute jog is
exhausting. But just really how long does it
take to get out of shape, to lose fitness?
I despise this answer, but it is often true...
it depends. Thankfully, it takes longer than
we may think! The body is a highly adaptable
piece of engineering and responds to stresses
placed upon it. If it is regularly stressed with
physical activity, the systems of the body will
adapt over time so that they can better handle
such physical demands. That is how we
become fitter and stronger. However, if it is
not required to perform such high level activity,
there is no need (or stimulus) to get fitter. It
will therefore remain in the state needed to
perform the regularly required level of activity,
be it lying on the couch or sitting at a desk
all day. A body at rest stays at rest. That s
how we become detrained...a fancy way of
saying that we have logged more hours at our
desk than in our running shoes.
Different systems in our body lose fitness
at different rates, but generally speaking, it
takes about 3-4 weeks to notice a considerable
change in one s fitness.
Let s take recreational exerciser, Jane, for
example. Jane is someone who logs about 3
days a week of physical activity and still has
enough energy to run around after her terrible
two-year old. Jane developed ChikV and was
down and out for a month before she felt rea-
sonable enough to resume her exercise pro-
The first system that lost fitness was Jane s
cardiovascular system. With no physical activity
over the last month, Jane s ability to consume
and utilize oxygen had diminished considerably.
In fact, after just 10 to 14 days of sedentary
behaviour, a person s aerobic system begins
Cardiovascular exercise causes the heart to
become stronger. It can therefore handle more
blood per heartbeat. More blood can also get
to the muscles involved in the exercise because
of the development of a capillary network
within those muscles. However, during detrain-
ing, those capillaries wither, and the heart
loses it s ability to handle more blood. This
is why we become short of breath and our
muscles burn when we begin a training pro-
gram after a long hiatus...the cardiovascular
system is not strong enough to get oxygen to
the working muscles.
The muscular system is also affected by
detraining, albeit less dramatically than the
cardiovascular system. We lose muscular
strength and endurance after about 4 weeks
of inactivity. During the first few weeks, the
effects are barely noticeable, but after the
four-week mark, muscle fibres begin to shrink.
Muscles lose their "bulky" feeling, becoming
softer, smaller and weaker. However, there is
something to be said for muscle memory, and
usually upon resumption of training, it is fairly
easy to regain muscular performance.
Jane s body composition would also have
changed during her illness. Contrary to popular
belief, muscle does not turn into fat after a
few weeks of inactivity. Both tissues are com-
pletely different. Rather, their proportions
within the body are affected by exercise, or
lack thereof. Jane stopped her workout that
would usually burn 500 calories. She therefore
would have had to reduce the amount of food
eaten in order to maintain her weight. If this
was not done, the extra 500 calories that
would have been burned during exercise, would
have been deposited around her body in the
form of fat. Couple this with muscle shrinkage
and the result is a pudgy Pillsbury Dough-
While the above is the general rule of "use
it or lose it," the amount of fitness lost per
period of time is different between trained
and sedentary individuals. Research has shown
that athletes retain a larger percentage of their
fitness compared to sedentary people. They
experience an initial decline in their fitness,
but long term gains in physical fitness are
usually minimally affected by time away from
However, athletes may feel the initial decline
in function more intensely, as detraining occurs
in proportion to the effort placed into getting
fit. The fitter the person, the faster the fitness
loss. There is so much more fitness to lose!
Detraining in inevitable as we go through
different experiences and stages of our lives.
The good news is that these changes in the
body s systems due to detraining are all
reversible. So Jane need not worry! Her fitness
should return pretty quickly!
Carla Rauseo, DPT, CSCS, ATRIC is a Doctor
of Physical Therapy and a Certified Aquatic
Therapy Rehabilitation Instructor at Total
Rehabilitation Centre in San Juan.
How long does it take to get unfit?
While the above is the general
rule of "use it or lose it," the
amount of fitness lost per period
of time is different between
trained and sedentary
individuals. Research has shown
that athletes retain a larger
percentage of their fitness
compared to sedentary people.
They experience an initial decline
in their fitness, but long term
gains in physical fitness are
usually minimally affected by
time away from aerobic activity.
Links Archive August 20th 2015 August 22nd 2015 Navigation Previous Page Next Page