How Quickly Do We Become Unfit?

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Personal/Fitness Training Blog

Getting in shape isn’t for the faint hearted. However, after all that hard work, how long do we actually maintain it? It turns out that even the fantastic effort we put into training, taking a bit of time off could mean that we become “unfit” much quicker than it took for us to actually get in shape.

In order to understand how the body becomes “unfit”, first we need to comprehend how we become fit. The crucial thing to becoming fitter – whether that’s boosting cardiovascular fitness or muscular strength – is to surpass “habitual load”. This means that doing more than our body is used to. The stress which this has on our body makes us adapt and also become more tolerant, leading to improved fitness levels.

The time it takes to get fit is dependent on a number of factors, including:

  • Fitness levels,
  • Age,
  • How hard you work, as well as
  • Even environment.

However, some studies do show that even just six sessions of interval training can lead to improvements in maximal oxygen uptake (V02 max), which is a measure of overall fitness. In addition, these sessions improve how efficiently our body is able to fuel itself using the sugar stored in our cells during exercise. For strength training, a number of different gains in muscle force may be shown in as little as two weeks, however changes in muscle size won’t be seen until around 8-12 weeks.

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Becoming Unfit Takes Place In Stages

Different systems in our body lose fitness at different rates, but generally speaking, it takes about between three and four weeks to notice a considerable change in one’s fitness levels.

Let’s take recreational exerciser, Jane, for instance. Jane is someone who logs about three days a week of physical activity and still has sufficient levels energy to run around after her terrible two-year old. Jane developed an illness and was down and out for a month before she felt reasonable enough to resume her exercise programme.

The first system that lost fitness was Jane’s cardiovascular system. With no physical activity over the last month, Jane’s ability to consume – as well as utilise oxygen – had considerably diminished. In fact, after just 10 to 14 days of sedentary behaviour, a person’s aerobic system begins to decline.

The muscular system is also affected by not training, albeit less dramatically as opposed to the cardiovascular system. We lose muscular strength and endurance after about four weeks of inactivity. During the first few weeks, the effects are hardly noticeable, but after the four-week mark, muscle fibres start to shrink. Muscles lose their “bulky” feeling, becoming softer, smaller as well as weaker. But there is a bit to be said for muscle memory, and typically upon resumption of training, it is fairly easy to regain muscular performance.

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