I was lucky enough recently to head off for a 3 week break. Spain and Italy were the destination for a mix of conferencing, relaxing and attending family celebrations. I also managed to sneak in a running event in Italy which was a real highlight.
After my race, my break definitely became a lot less active. Lots of time eating, relaxing by the water and just general chilling was in order! The European heat wave also helped quash any plans for more vigorous activity :)
Soon after I was home, I found myself headed out for my first workout. I was actually looking forward to it! I remember that I chose to head to my local park to catch the last of a pretty sunset. Am lucky in that my favourite local park has a great mix of water views, stairs, open spaces and benches.
So the idea was to head there and do a mix of aerobic and strength exercise for 45 minutes before the sun went down.
Well..I can tell you it didn't feel so great!
I was surprised how puffed I was as soon as I started moving.
Once I tried any type of squats and push ups I felt wobbly and weak!!
Despite taking some great music to help motivate me, I struggled to finish what I set out to. This was my face after I finished my very average session.
So why did this session feel so poor?
You might have read an earlier piece where I explored how long it takes us to lose muscle (it's only 2-3 weeks if you needed a reminder).
As well as a loss of muscle strength, here are some other changes that happen to our bodies when we starve them of the goodness of exercise.
Reduced VO2 Max
The maximum amount of oxygen your body can use is one of the biggest variables that we see change with regular exercise. Unfortunately it can also be something that can decrease quickly when we stop moving.
This break I was definitely conscious of some tighter muscles on my return. Long flights, sun baking, reading can all add up and mean slightly stiffer joints and muscles. I often remind clients that our body is constantly in a state of flux, responding to the things we do. So after a few weeks of sitting and lying around, I can t be too surprised that some of my mobility has reduced.
Change in body composition
Although these changes can be subtle, our body composition also changes after periods of inactivity. We know reduction in muscle mass (and therefore strength) can occur after 2-4 weeks of rest. Depending on whether your eating habits have also changed during this period (like mine did whilst I was away!) then you can also expect some changes to other parts of your body.
So what do we do?
Do we all need to give up our regular holidays?
Thankfully I don't think this is necessary :)
Although we suggest trying to avoid long breaks in activity, I appreciate this is sometimes unavoidable. Stints in hospital, periods of being unwell, disease flare ups, hectic periods of work and family life can often result in reduced physical activity. But if you find yourself in this situation.. don't despair! Although our exercise gains are quick to diminish, the tables turn again as soon as you recommence! So start slow, build up gradually and you will hopefully be able to build your routine up once again. I prefer to always think of the long game..and although periods of inactivity can be frustrating, the long term gains of remaining regularly active far outweigh being a bit puffed and sore after a holiday :)