The Effects of Stopping Exercise

If you completely stop exercising, it can be bad for your health.
Image Credit: Photographer, Basak Gurbuz Derman/Moment/GettyImages

Skipping the gym one day isn't likely to have much effect on you, but abruptly halting your regular exercise routine can hurt both your body and your mind. If you've been sidelined by a medical condition or injury, you might be feeling "gym withdrawal."

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Talk to your doctor or a physical therapist about ways you can stay fit without getting hurt. When the choice to exercise is up to you, try cutting back on workouts rather than cutting them out altogether.

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Read more: The 4 Pillars of Any Good Gym Routine

Be Aware of Muscle Atrophy

Despite what some people might think, your muscles won't turn to fat once you stop exercising. They will, however, begin to shrink once you give up an exercise program. According to the American Council on Exercise, you could lose up to 50 percent of your strength in 10 weeks without exercise.

If you cut your caloric intake down to make up for not exercising, your muscles would simply get smaller while the overall size of your body would stay about the same.

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But if you keep eating the same amount you did while exercising, fat will build up and might cover the muscles, which might give the appearance that your formerly fit biceps have turned into flab.

Watch for Mood Changes

Psychologists and doctors have long touted the benefits of exercise in terms of improving mood. Exercising may cause your body to suppress chemicals that cause depression and release other chemicals that lessen depression, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

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When you stop working out, you'll lose these benefits. You might also feel grumpy or suffer damage to your self-esteem if your weight starts to rise. Anytime you experience depression that disrupts your life or makes you consider harming yourself, contact your doctor.

Decreased Fitness Level

As your muscles shrink and you spend more time on the couch, your physical fitness level will drop. You might start to lose stamina, flexibility and energy within a few weeks of stopping regular exercise.

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Getting back to exercising can reverse these effects, but it might take time and effort. The length of time it will take you to get back to your previous fitness level depends on factors such as your weight, age and intensity of your workouts, according to the American Council on Exercise.

Read more: The Advantages of Going to the Gym Every Day

Avoid "Gym Withdrawal"

If you're an occasional jogger, you aren't likely to experience "gym withdrawal," but athletes and hardcore gym-goers who give up exercise might actually have symptoms similar to those of a recovering drug addict.

According to the Counseling & Psychological Services department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, people who exercise heavily every day and use working out to deal with stress may experience physical symptoms when they stop. You might notice changes in your sleep patterns, have difficulty concentrating or feel achy and sore.

The university also warns of exercise abuse, which typically involves excessive reliance on exercise and behaviors such as exercising even while sick or injured. In these cases, stopping exercise can lead to withdrawal symptoms.

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Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.
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