10 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Stop Exercising

You try your absolute best to consistently work out and be active. But more often than not, as life fluctuates, so does your dedication to your physical fitness. Maybe you started the week with great aspirations, only to get hit by extra work at the office, a big life event, or a personal life change. When these things happen, your priorities can shift, leaving your body neglected and the gym far from your mind.

Trust us, you aren’t the first person to skip a workout or two when life throws you a curve ball. But quitting your workout routine has some major impacts on your health. Check out both the immediate and long-term impacts that quitting your workout routine has on your body and mind.

1. Your blood pressure soars

exhausted man at the gym

Your blood pressure will spike when you stop working out. | iStock.com

This change is practically immediate as your blood pressure is higher on days you exercise than on days you don’t, Prevention says. When you skip any form of physical exercise your blood vessels quickly adapt, increasing your blood pressure a couple notches after just two weeks of missed gym sessions. 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. If you suffer from high blood pressure, a month or two back at the gym will lower your numbers and have your blood vessels functioning efficiently.

2. Your muscles shrink

man showing his muscles

Your muscles will quickly shrink if you don’t work out for three days straight. | iStock.com

Elite Daily reports that even after 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. You won’t be able to immediately look in a mirror and see your body shrinking, but when you finally hit the gym again your muscles will get fatigued faster than before. Muscles that are rarely used in your day-to-day life like your abdomen are the fastest to lose tone, while muscles like your hamstrings which you use to walk around will decline at a slower pace.

3. Your endurance takes a dive

exhausted sport woman running outdoors

Your endurance takes a heavy hit when you take time off from exercising. | iStock.com/OcusFocus

It’s not just your muscles that shrink — the amount of time it takes you to get winded decreases as well. Everything from walking up the stairs to going on a run becoming more taxing on the body. According to Health, your VO2 max — the amount of oxygen your body can take in and use — can drop up to 10% within two weeks of skipping your workout sessions. If you know you will be missing your usual intense workout, think about at least including some kind of physical activity — perhaps a power walk — into your schedule so your endurance doesn’t completely go out the window.

4. Your bones weaken


Without exercise, these bags of bones become quite brittle. | Martin/Fox Photos/Getty Images

One of the more long-term effects has to do with your bone health. Sure, you won’t look in the mirror and see this change take form. But if you are taking months upon months off of exercise, the effects can reach your bones within a year. “As we age and over time we need to work harder to maintain our fitness,” ShapeScale explains. “In the absence of weight bearing activity the bones are more susceptible to becoming brittle and you will be more at risk of osteoporosis.”

5. Your body weight changes

overweight man eating chips

Over time your weight and cravings will change when you neglect your workouts. | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

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. FitDay reports highly-trained athletes who quit working out suddenly see increases in body fat after just five weeks.

To avoid weight gain, you’ll need to alter your diet to counteract your lack of physical activity. That means saying goodbye to dessert, the bread basket, and those extra high-calorie toppings. By controlling or reducing your calorie intake, you can prevent weight gain with or without the gym.

6. Your blood sugar jumps

lazy employee

Yes, you even put your blood sugar at risk when you neglect working out. | iStock.com

Men’s Health says your blood sugar will 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 actually raise your risk of heart disease and diabetes, but after just a week of regular exercise your post-meal blood sugar will drop dramatically.

7. Your mood shifts

depression setting in after man hasn't been exercising

You may notice that you aren’t thinking as clearly when you give up the gym. | iStock.com

Every fitness addict knows about the elated post-workout feeling. You feel light, healthy, clean, and strong. Why? Livestrong.com explains exercise has the ability to improve your mood and actually suppress chemicals in the brain that cause depression by releasing other chemicals that lessen it. 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.

8. Your brain functions change

MRI Image for Brain

Your brain is also affected when you stop working out. | iStock.com/Highwaystarz-Photography

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.” Granted, taking a couple days off probably won’t result in complete memory loss. But it should be extra incentive to get back on the workout train.

9. Your joints will ache more, especially if you are older

Man with inflammation

Swollen joints due to inflammation can occur when you pick exercising back up. | iStock.com

If you stopped working out, you might notice that you now have pain in some of your joints. This is because your ligaments and cartilage are hit by the stop in exercise just as the rest of your body. And, unfortunately, it can take even longer to recover if you are older.

Spectrum Fitness Consulting explains that “although muscle tissue seems to still respond positively to exercise stress, other tissues seem to take longer to recover from stress applied to it, like tendons and cartilage. This is perhaps because, in the case of tendons, they have less blood flow and oxygenation, impairing recovery capacity.”

10. You might have trouble reaching your previous fitness goals

Man in stadium

It can be hard to get back on track — but it’s doable. | iStock.com

By now, it should be hammered into your brain that taking long breaks from exercise has negative side effects. Once you finally get back to it, you might also find that your workout intensity is starting back at square one. But fear not — you can totally get back on track. “You can return to the same exercise you previously did, but at a lower intensity,” AZCentral.com recommends. “As your fitness builds, usually around the six-week mark, you can add more workouts per week and increase the time spent working out. You will know you are ready to progress when your workout routine is no longer challenging.”

Evie Carrick also contributed to this article