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October 2020

If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it

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By Sarah Noske

With everything returning back to some sort of normality after the COVID-19 isolation period, many people are now getting back into to their chosen sport or activity. However, many have realised just how long it’s been since their last session when they notice their decline in cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength.

The saying “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it” has taken its course with many people not having the motivation to continue some sort of physical activity. While it may be a term that is thrown around, it does hold considerable merit.

We are hearing a lot of “I’m having trouble getting out of a chair” and “I now find I am more short of breath when I am out walking”. While it may feel more difficult to start to re-build what you have lost over the time away, the health benefits associated with exercise far outweigh the alternative.

Although loss of strength and muscle tone varies between age and fitness on average, it takes about two to three weeks to lose muscle strength. While muscle fibres will stay the same over the period of not exercising, there will be a decease in strength and power.

The degree our cardiovascular endurance declines when we are not exercising will again depend on pre levels of fitness. A highly trained athlete will experience a rapid decline in fitness within three weeks of not exercising, after this time the rate of decline tapers off. Those that have a significant level of pre fitness can preserve their fitness for about 12 weeks. Individuals with a low to moderate fitness level show a small change in cardiovascular fitness within the first few weeks, but following weeks they can expect to see more of a rapid decline. Mora-Rodriguez et al. (2014) looked at individuals that completed aerobic interval training for four months then stopped. It was found that just one month after ceasing the training, the associated health benefits gained from exercise, like improved blood pressure, were reversed.

Health professionals agree – the best way to avoid the decrease in muscle strength and cardiovascular endurance or fitness is to simply keep moving. Continue to challenge your body to minimise de-training effects that come as a result of taking time away from your usual routine.  As well as exercise, making sure we are eating well and getting enough sleep will provide the building blocks to maintain good health and decrease the degree of decline. 

If you’re struggling to re-find your form, make contact with your closest health professional and discuss the ways they can assist you in getting back to your best self.