It’s no secret that a sedentary lifestyle—think less spinning, more sweatpants and Netflix—can be a contributing factor for diabetes. But what if you’re normally super active and just take a few weeks off, whether it’s for work, travel, illness, or because, hey, sometimes we all just need a break?
Well, new research from the University of Liverpool says just two weeks without regular physical activity can lead to muscular and metabolic changes that could potentially increase a person’s risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even premature death. But before you cancel your Hulu subscription and bolt for the nearest bootcamp, here’s what you need to know.
“When everything you measure gets worse in such a short time period, including these important risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, it is actually quite surprising.”
In an effort to see just how much a two-week sweat break would impact healthy, normal-to-overweight young adults, researchers monitored 28 men and women around 25 years old who walked around 10,000 steps a day. To get a baseline, their fat, muscle mass, mitochondrial function (how well they regulate energy and can recover from exercise), and physical fitness were measured.
Then, the participants spent two weeks walking just 1,500 steps per day—an 80 percent decrease from what they were used to. So they were now spending 129 additional minutes per day in a sedentary state (AKA a four-episode binge of Master of None).
The result? After two weeks—during which they didn’t alter their eating habits—the participants had gained weight and lost muscle mass, and their total body fat had increased, particularly around the abdomen. They were also unable to run as long or at the same intensity as they could before the study began, and experienced a decrease in insulin sensitivity, an increase in fat accumulated in the liver, and in increase in triglycerides. (Whoa.)
It’s not super surprising being less active leads to fitness losses—though researchers were surprised by just how quickly these changes happened.
“We thought that we would see some subtle changes,” co-author Dan Cuthbertson, PhD, reader and consultant for the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Aging and Chronic Disease, told Health magazine. “But when everything you measure gets worse in such a short time period, including these important risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, it is actually quite surprising.”
Translation: You’re not going to immediately find yourself with a diabetes diagnosis just because you took two weeks off to heal an achy hamstring or to honeymoon in the Seychelles. It takes longer than that for things to get super serious—but the research is a good reminder to stay active, even if it just means slapping on an activity tracker and getting as many daily steps as possible.
And the good news? Bouncing back after time off is NBD. When the participants got back to their normal lifestyles, their health markers returned to normal within two weeks. “The effects were entirely reversible,” Cuthbertson says. “So it’s fine if you’re fit and well and you go on holiday for two weeks and then you get right back to normal.”
In other words, gym then Netflix. #balance
This story was originally published on May 18, 2017; it was updated on June 22, 2018.
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