The benefits of exercise are not purely cosmetic. Instead, exercise is necessary to help you maintain healthy muscles and to send oxygen-rich blood to your tissues.
If you have been sedentary for some time due to illness or injury, you may experience unpleasant side effects, such as muscle tension or muscle pain from lack of exercise. This can make performing "simple" everyday activities much more difficult.
Exercise and Muscle Function
Exercise enhances muscle tissue performance by stimulating blood flow to your tissues. When you move your body, you increase your circulation, sending oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to your tissues. This helps to keep your muscles healthy and functioning at their best.
Also, if you engage in resistance training, you are working to strengthen your muscles. This is accomplished by adding tension to your muscles, causing them to work harder to lift a weight or pull a resistance band. As a result, tiny tears in your muscle fibers are created. When your body repairs these tears, you become stronger. A lack of exercise reduces your strength, which can have tension-inducing effects.
Muscle Weakness and Atrophy
When your muscles become weakened due to inactivity, you are more likely to experience muscle soreness from everyday activity. This includes anything from lifting a box to climbing your stairs. This soreness can then develop into muscle tension that causes your muscles to shorten.
Eventually, muscle shortening can lead to the development of what are known as "trigger points" — tight knots of muscle tissue. These knots may require massage or trigger point release to reduce muscle tension — an effective intervention — as demonstrated in a September 2018 study of 62 patients, published by American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation.
Even without recent illness or injury, muscle tension can develop as a side effect of a sedentary lifestyle. For example, many people spend a lot of their time sitting at a desk. This leads to muscle shortening and tension in the front of your hips, chest, and other muscles on the front of your shoulders, according to the American Council on Exercise.
Read more: How to Build Up Atrophied Muscles
Proceed with Caution
If you experience muscle tension from lack of exercise, it's important not to jump back into exercise aggressively. While you should incorporate exercise into your everyday routine to reduce soreness, you should slowly add low-impact exercises like walking or bicycling for short bursts of time into your routine. According to ExRx.net, if you are just resuming weight training after a period of inactivity, limit your weight training to two or three days per week.
Add gentle daily stretching to your workout to gradually decrease muscle tension and improve range of motion. Stretches will likely be uncomfortable, but should not cause pain. Hold each stretch for at least 20 to 30 seconds, and repeat three times.
When you experience muscle soreness and deconditioning from lack of exercise, you are more at risk for injuries like sprains and fractures. If you are unsure of how to resume exercising, see your physician who can offer advice on returning to exercise.