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.