Sometimes a rest day turns into a rest week and then a rest month — but there's always time to get back on the fitness wagon, right? Not so fast. According to new research from University of Liverpool, skipping your workouts for just two weeks can significantly increase your risk for diabetes, heart disease and even premature death.
And if you're rolling your eyes because you're 20-something and have an invincibility complex, we've got some bad news for you: The researchers studied 28 healthy people with an average age of 25. The study participants each walked about 10,000 steps per day prior to the experiment and had an average body mass index of 25 (which is on the border of what's considered normal and overweight).
When the researchers reduced the "guinea pigs'" activity level by 80 percent, from 10,000 to about 1,500 steps per day, they found that there were significant changes to their body compositions. After two weeks, the subjects gained weight and lost muscle mass. Interestingly, the new fat tended to accumulate near their midsections, which is actually a better predictor of chronic diseases than BMI. What's more, the subjects couldn't run as long or with the same intensity as they could before.
Other changes that the scientists noted were less expected. For starters, the subjects saw a decrease in insulin sensitivity and an increase in fat accumulated in the liver, indicating a higher risk for obesity and diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. They also experienced an increase in triglycerides, a component of cholesterol that can raise your risk of heart attack and stroke when it builds up in your arteries.
Though the changes were small, they were significant enough to cause alarm. "We thought that we would see some subtle changes," co-author of the study, Dan Cuthbertson, Ph.D., tells Health. "But when everything you measure gets worse in such a short period, including these important risk factors for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, it is actually quite surprising."
The good news is that the negative effects of falling off the bandwagon are totally reversible, Cuthbertson explains, as long as you get back to your usual routine. "So it's fine if you're fit and well and you go on holiday for two weeks and then you get right back to normal," he says. "But the problem is that many people don't revert back to these levels of activity, and then perhaps the effects will accumulate."
But Cuthbertson stresses that you don't have to become a fitness junkie to ward off the nasty effects of inactivity. Start by sitting less and walking more. "Simply being less sedentary and maintaining a high step count has very clear health benefits," he says.
So the lesson here is that something is a whole lot better than nothing. Opt for a standing desk at work, and instead of reaching for that third cup of coffee, go on a walk to re-energize.
What Do YOU Think?
Would you consider yourself physically active? How do you fit physical activity into your day? Share in the comments section!