get in shape

We obsess about getting INTO shape, but….

We often wonder how long it will take to improve some aspect of our health; to lose fat, to gain muscle, to build a habit.

But I think it’s also important to know how long it takes to LOSE the progress we’ve made. It helps to bring into perspective the vital importance of consistency. 

We all get off track sometimes. Remember, first and foremost, like I said in a post a few weeks back: You are only one workout or one healthy meal away from being back on track!

But let’s say you stumble and get off track with your exercise, do you know how long it will be before you start losing your health and fitness gains?

It happens: you get sick, go on vacation, work gets crazy, or you just lose your mojo … and suddenly it has been a week (or two, or a month, or two … ) since you’ve worked out.

Even if you’ve been regularly working out for a long time (months or years), the truth is it doesn’t take very long for your body to start losing the benefits of all your hard work! (Sucks, but it’s true).

Here’s a quick rundown of a recent study that put 35 men and women (aged 22 to 77) through baseline testing on several fitness and health measures. After their baseline, they were led through a 13-week workout program that included both cardio and resistance training.

  • The people in the study hadn’t been regular exercisers until they joined the study, which was sponsored by the American Council on Exercise.
  • Not surprisingly, everyone who completed the program got in better cardiovascular shape, gained strength, lost fat, had lower blood pressure and better blood lipid scores (lower triglycerides and higher “good” HDL cholesterol).
  • After the program, researchers randomly split the group in two, with half continuing training and half stopping. Scientists kept monitoring them to check for body changes.

Here’s what they found: 

Within JUST ONE WEEK of stopping training, they LOST their improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol!  

After TWO WEEKS, they lost a significant amount of strength and their VO2 max (a measure of cardio fitness) dropped. Plus, their body fat percentage started going up.

Within ONE MONTH, all improvements had vanished. 13 weeks of training wiped out in 4 weeks.

Wow, that happens fast.

We evolved for millions of years in an environment that required significant physical activity every day for survival. As such, evolution favors and rewards physical activity, that’s just how natural selection works. 

What’s the takeaway? Building the practice of fitness into your EVERYDAY LIFESTYLE is the key to lower body fat, cardio fitness, healthier blood pressure and cholesterol, longevity, and a bunch of other benefits.

There are a LOT of things you can do at home or on the road to avoid losing all your precious fitness gains … and even continue MAKING health and fitness gains. 

If you’re stuck, here are 3 QUICK suggestions:

  • Drop down wherever you are and do 10 push ups and a 30 second plank. Don’t think about it, just do it. Those few seconds of exercise won’t change your body, but they begin the process again, and they break the inertia you’re trapped in. They also build self-efficacy and show you that you’re not stuck, you’re capable of cranking it up again. Set a timer on your phone to do this or something similarly simple every day to build momentum. 
  • Here’s a tip from my “5 Pillars of Health” presentation. When all else fails, walk. Simply drop what you’re doing and walk out the door for 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 30 minutes. It operates in much the same way as the tip above and walking was the primary method of physical activity we had as humans for the majority of our existence as a species, so our bodies respond to it biologically.
  • Call a friend and ask for help. Reach out to someone you know who is unfailingly consistent with their exercise and ask them to help you out, to drag you out for a walk, a run, to a class. Piggyback on someone else’s consistency!

The important thing is that you do SOMETHING, ANYTHING to get the process going again.

Here’s the upshot; we never build up enough exercise equity to draw from it for the rest of our lives. That’s just a fact. Build the practice and the body will follow.

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Jonathan Aluzas is co-owner of Arena Fitness, a fitness center that offers group training in Encino as well as personal training in Northridge.