Regardless of your New Year’s resolution and the good intentions that come along with it, winter weather brings some pretty intense temptations. I highly prefer a comfy couch, warm fire and hot bowl of beef stew over running outside in the frigid, snowy, windy mess of winter. I would like to say that I always resist such temptations but I know I’m not the only one who would be lying if I did. The fact is, everyone deserves a break; a cheat-on-my-diet day or a forget-my-workout day. The question is, how much of a break is acceptable? At what point during your fitness boycott do you start to un-do the benefits of your training? A few recent studies have tried to answer those questions and it seems to depend on your basic fitness level and expected length of hiatus.
Athletes who completely halt their training can expect to see a decline in strength, stamina and muscle mass within as little as five weeks. This isn’t a small decline, either. The studies reported a loss of up to “9 percent of their muscular power and 11 percent of their aerobic capacity.” The longer one remains inactive, the higher the risk of diabetes and other health complications rises. Even competitive athletes who intensely train for many years don’t have much room for sloth later in life. The benefits of exercise only exist as long as the person remains active. I guess that’s why professional athletes continue to train in the off-season.
That’s not to say there’s no room for slack. It also appears that as long as long as an athlete remains moderately active (i.e., reducing workouts as opposed to completely cutting them out) they hold on to the health benefits of their fit physique, without extreme training all throughout life.
If you wish to take a break or slow down your fitness regimen, it would be wise to develop a strong fitness foundation first. The studies suggest that “visiting the gym only once a week may be enough for young and older athletes to hold onto past strength gains.” If you’re like most average people (and lacking in the world-class-athlete department!) then you probably don’t possess a fitness foundation that supports a break. Cheer up though because I’m right there with you and I’m sure you will by next winter! For now, though, it would probably be best to put down the comfort food, hop off the couch and get moving!
For more information about the data studied to determine how long exercise benefits last, visit The New York Times.
January 14th, 2011