Lazy Summer or Deconditioning?

The weather is hot, going to the gym may be out of the question, and so you’ve been trying to enjoy what’s been a crazy few months by relaxing and enjoying the lazy, hazy days of summer. Taking a day off from physical activity here and there is no problem – in fact, it’s recommended to let your body rest and heal on a regular basis – but if you’ve been consistently missing your regular run, bike ride, or gym session and notice some new aches and pains showing up, you might have the beginnings of deconditioning.

Deconditioning explained

Exercise creates many changes in your body: your heart begins to pump blood more efficiently, your muscles use oxygen more efficiently, they contract in a more coordinated manner, and your body gets more efficient at turning food into fuel, to name a few. Deconditioning is the reversing of these changes. Unfortunately, exercise is a “use it or lose it” kind of thing, and deconditioning is the process by which we “lose it.” How long does it take to decondition? As with most things related to a system as complex as the human body, it depends.

According to the ACSM, two weeks without exercise can lead to significant loss of cardiovascular fitness. Two to eight months of detraining can erase virtually all of your positive gains. As you detrain, cardiovascular fitness tends to decline first, with muscle strength declining later. Other factors that effect deconditioning time include your age and your history of exercise and fitness. If you’re younger, you’ll likely lose muscular and cardiovascular fitness at a slower rate than someone older. Likewise, if you’ve been consistently exercising for a long time, or at a high intensity, your losses will probably be slower than for someone who just started.

Reversing the losses

Right now, many of us are busy simply trying to keep the spinning plates of family, work and sanity from crashing down around us. If you’re experiencing a period of increased time commitments, using a shortened exercise routine can help minimize your losses. Even one session a week will help you keep most of what you’ve gained, and can also help with stress relief. Other options include using shorter but more intense interval training sessions, such as HIIT or Tabata Training, or breaking up your activity into multiple short chunks during the day. If your time away from activity was longer than a few weeks, it may take just as long to retrain as it did to make the gains the first time.

You may find that, in jumping back into training where you left off, you’re experiencing aches, pains and even injuries like muscle strains and sprains due to overexertion. If you’re having any of those issues and need help either treating them or designing a safe program to maintain your fitness or gain it back after a layoff, your local PTSMC physical therapist can help! PTs can not only help you recover faster from an injury, they can also identify activities to maintain your fitness while safely working around an injury or illness. Better yet, PT is covered by most insurances, and in most cases you don’t need a doctor’s referral so see a physical therapist.

There’s a reason they call them the “lazy days of summer,” but that doesn’t mean you should let your fitness fall by the wayside. If you’re experiencing the signs of deconditioning after a period of inactivity, physical therapists are here to help you get back out there safely and without pain – other than some sore muscles that is.