4 Things That Might Happen If You Stop Working Out (from Weight Gain to Sleep Loss)

illustration of two women working out together
Mikhail Seleznev/getty images

Whether you’re burnt out from near-daily gym sessions or that pesky back injury just won’t go away, you’re taking a break from exercise. But before you hang up your sneakers, you should know about some of the things that might happen to your body and mind if you stop working out, from weight gain to poorer sleep quality.

1. Your Body Might Feel Better…Initially

Especially if you’ve been training particularly hard, a (short) break from exercise can actually be a good thing. “Exercise is a stressor,” Ryan Maciel, registered dietician and head nutrition coach at Precision Nutrition explains. “Even though it's usually a good one, it adds stress to your body, and our bodies need time to recover from all the stress we experience.” And where working out is concerned, it turns out you can have too much of a good thing. “Training too frequently and intensely without adequate rest and recovery can lead to a condition called overreaching or even a more severe condition known as overtraining syndrome,” Maciel tells us. If you’ve been hitting the gym harder—and more often—than usual, it’s important to give your body enough rest—which could come in the form of a short gym hiatus. (Think two or three days.)

2. You Might Gain Weight

This one isn’t super surprising: If you’re eating the same amount of calories per day but stop burning as many calories, you’re likely going to gain weight. Beyond the number on the scale changing, you might also notice yourself getting winded more easily. Studies like this one have shown significant reductions in VO2 max (the body’s ability to effectively use oxygen) within two to four weeks of detraining, or stopping an exercise regimen.

3. You Might Feel More Depressed

Physical benefits aside, exercise can also play a huge role in supporting a healthy mind. According to Barbara Nosal, Ph.D., chief clinical officer at Newport Academy, 30 minutes or more of daily exercise “increases the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked to the regulation of mood and social behavior, as well as sleep, appetite and memory, all of which contribute to a balanced mind and body.” If you stop working out, then, you might be missing out on that extra serotonin and feel your mood start to change.

4. You Might Not Sleep as Well

Sleep and exercise are pretty intimately related, folks. For example, a 2014 study published in the journal Sleep Medicine found that performing vigorous exercise 90 minutes before bedtime was associated with falling asleep faster, fewer wake-ups in the middle of the night and improved mood. If you’re used to exercising regularly and you stop out of nowhere, you might notice yourself having a harder time falling—and staying—asleep. Bummer…we know.

photo of a woman tired after a workout
Martin-GM/Getty Images

How to Get Back into Working Out After a Hiatus

Whether your hiatus was intentional or not, it can be daunting to think about getting back into an exercise routine. Here are five ways to ease the transition back into the gym (or track or court or wherever you prefer to sweat).

1. Start Small

If you’re not currently working out consistently, don’t expect to hop right in without feeling sorer than you thought was possible. Instead, start small and work your way up to exercising every day. Soon enough you’ll be so used to it that you’ll almost forget about a time when you didn’t have to do laundry twice a week just for workout clothes.

2. Plan Ahead (But Don’t Be Scared to Stray from Your Schedule)

When it comes to a consistent exercise plan, preparation is everything. At the beginning of each week (say, Sunday night), take a look at your schedule for the week and map out your workouts. Whether that means blocking off an hour for a yoga video or scheduling a long outdoor walk with a friend, you’ll be way more likely to stick to a routine if it’s on your calendar days in advance. That said, don’t beat yourself up if your schedule is out of control and you have to skip a session.

3. Invest in Workout Clothes (and Accessories) You Love

By now we’ve established that the clothes we wear and how we present ourselves are linked pretty closely with how confident we feel. The same goes for workout attire and gear. Whether it’s an expert-approved new yoga mat or a cute and motivational water bottle, fitness accoutrements that make you feel like you can kick ass make it a whole lot easier to actually kick ass.

4. Don’t Go All Out Every Day

Working out intensely seven days a week is not only tiring, it could be dangerous. Your body needs time to recover, which is why it’s essential to set aside days for light, restorative workouts like slow-flow yoga or even a long, brisk walk.

5. Don’t Beat Yourself Up if You Miss a Day

We get it, life happens. Sometimes you don’t have any time to work out or you just really aren’t feeling it (or you’re really sick, of course). Those days, it’s totally fine not to exercise, as long as you get back in the groove soon.

sarah stiefvater
Sarah Stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...
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