By Grant Colombo | Chiropractor

Unfortunately, one of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic that has swept the world is that we have seen a huge proportion of active people reducing or even ceasing their physical activity. Now ideally this is not a positive thing for the fitness levels and physical and mental health of these people. We need to consider life after the restrictions have been lifted and things begins to return to “normal”. We need to get back off the couch and start to get back into a healthy routine which physical activity plays a huge role.

It is however important to realise the effects of reducing physical activity and living a sedentary lifestyle for the recent time period. It is essential to start from the start and begin building up your endurance, strength and stamina. Fast tracking this or trying to pick up at a higher level prior to reducing activity levels can result in frustration and injury.

What are the effects of reducing physical activity on the human body?

Blood pressure

Blood pressure has been seen to increase just after two weeks of reduced physical activity. Within just one month of neglecting your body, your arteries and veins stiffen, sending your blood pressure reading back to where it would be if you’d never left the couch or started working out in the first place.

Muscle size reduction

Even after just three days of skipped physical activity, your body will begin changing. Your muscle mass will start to decrease, fibers will lose their fat-burning capabilities, and you’ll begin to lose that strength you took so much time to develop.

Reduction in cardiovascular endurance

It’s not just your muscles that shrink — the amount of time it takes you to get fatigued decreases as well. Everything from walking up the stairs to going on a run becoming more taxing on the body. The amount of oxygen your body can take in and use can drop up to 10% within two weeks of skipping your workout sessions.

Reduction in bone density

if you are taking months upon months off exercise, the effects can reach your bones within a year. In the absence of weight bearing activity the bones are more susceptible to becoming brittle and you will be more at risk of osteoporosis.”

Increase in body fat

If you go from being a gym rat or a doing a strict marathon training program to a completely sedentary lifestyle, you’ll quickly notice an increase in body fat. Highly-trained athletes who quit working out suddenly see increases in body fat after just five weeks.

Blood sugar increase

blood sugar levels can rise after just five days of trading the treadmill for your couch. Typically your blood glucose rises after you eat and then drops down as your muscles and other tissues absorb the sugar they need for energy. If you’ve been skipping the gym, your post-meal blood sugar levels will remain elevated. Continuously increasing blood sugar readings can raise your risk of heart disease and diabetes. After just a week of regular exercise your post-meal blood sugar will drop dramatically.

Changes in mood

exercise can improve your mood and actually suppress chemicals in the brain that cause depression. Not only will you miss that post-workout high, but you are more likely to feel grumpy and self-conscious about your physical appearance as you lose strength and the pounds start adding up.

Changes In brain function

Mood isn’t the only thing that changes when you stop exercising for stretches of time. A Men’s Journal article chronicles a study done by the University of Maryland that examined how cognitive functions take a hit when the sweat sessions stop. The research, done on endurance athletes took 10 whole days off of exercise, the athletes “showed less blood flow to regions of the brain like the hippocampus, which is involved in memory.”

Starting activity again

A good way to return to a physically active lifestyle is to implement a goal driven programme which you can use to slowly and confidently use to build up your fitness.

The goals you use should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-framed.

I think the best way to return to a physically active lifestyle is to first identify the type of exercise you would enjoy the most and what it is you want to get out of being active.

For the purposes of this article we will focus on 3 different types of training with the aim of increasing cardiovascular health and skeletal/core strength.

Cardio training

The main goal of cardio training is to increase the efficiency of oxygen deliverance to the body’s muscles and metabolically active cells.

For return to physical activity it is advised to incrementally increase frequency, intensity and duration of cardio training. For the purposes of this article we can focus on two types of cardio training. Brisk walking and running. Previous experience also plays a huge role in determining distance and frequency of cardio training. We are going to tailor this program for the average person. As you progress using methods including timing your run and heart rate monitors will help you keep track of improvements and add measurable factors.  

Week 1:

2 days a week 30-45 mins per session. Aim is to maintain an elevated heart rate with a mild-moderate work rate. 2-3 Km running and 5-7Km walking is suitable depending on level of fitness.

Week 2: 2-3 days a week.  Aim to increase work rate by a kilometre or so depending on how our body has responded to week 1. For some people repeating the same distance as week 1 might be more appropriate. A moderate work rate should still be employed with focus on maintaining an elevated heart rate for the full duration of the session.

Week 3-4: 3 days a week. Aim to increase intensity and duration of training. Running approx. 4-5 Km and walking 7+ Km should be sufficient to challenge fitness levels. If using timing methods

Weight training

The main goal of weight training is to increase muscle mass and strength of the skeletal muscles and therefore increasing the metabolic rate. This will result in using more energy during exercise and at rest. Initially weight training can be quite demanding on the body and usually results in moderate to severe muscle soreness. It is for this reason that we advise to start weight training once or twice per week and be sure not to over train as this could hinder progression and increase the likelihood of injury. It is ideal to separate weight training nights and focus on muscle groups in an ordered fashion. For example training arms one day, then back the next and finally legs the next session. This gives the body adequate recovery time and reduces the chance of muscle soreness limiting training capabilities.

For example:

Weeks 1-3: 1-2 days per week. Lighter weights/higher reps. Approx. 30-40 mins each session. Targeting different muscle groups per session. For example start with arms/chest then second session aim to target back and legs.

Weeks 3-6: 2-3 days per week. Start to progress in terms of weight/reps. Duration of the training session can also be increased to allow for longer work outs. Still tailor sessions to target specific muscle groups.

Weeks 6+: 3+ days per week. Continue to increase levels of weights/reps to a point where it is nearly using maximum exertion. When training at this intensity it is imperative to allow adequate recovery.

Core strength

The main goal of core strengthening is about ensuring the stability of the body during movement. With a weakened core the body is far more susceptible to injury. Numerous studies highlight the importance of having a strong functioning core in injury prevention and optimal functioning during physical activity.

If core strengthening is new for you, then watch this video.

If you have done core strengthening in the past now is the time to start returning to 5-10 mins of training each day. Over the next few weeks increasing to 2-3 sessions of approx. 20 mins per session.

Alternatively going online and downloading our Pilates or functional stability classes via Pinnacle Digital will give you a variety of suitable work outs with instructions for good technique.

It is imperative when embarking on your journey back to being physically active to remain conscious and educated about the impacts physical activity can have on the body. Ensuring adequate rest between sessions and making sure not to overtrain the body are extremely important in injury prevention. Diet, hydration and sleep may need to be changed to meet the increased demands physical activity can have.

If at any time during this process you are sore, injured or unsure about the process please do not hesitate to contact us at Pinnacle Spine & Sports.