The fitness industry is seasonally predictable. Gym and fitness studio memberships cool down as temperatures get hotter outside during the summer months. In contrast, News Year’s brings a swarm of new memberships to satisfy those “healthy” New Year’s resolutions.
According to the IHRSA, 12% of new gym memberships occur in January. Of those, 80% will cancel their memberships in May.
There are a lot of reasons for this:
- College students or temporary residents return home during the summer months.
- The thought of working out in a stuffy gym or a heated studio is much less appealing on a hot summer day.
- A misconception is that because you are outside “doing stuff,” you’re exercising.
- Kids are out of school and parents have less time to work out.
- People tend to push their fitness aside for summer fun.
I get it. Summer is a time for fun in the sun and spending time at the pool or boating. It is easy to say, “a few months off isn’t going to hurt” or “I’m outside swimming, doing yard work, and playing with my kids.” Yardwork may be physically draining, but it’s not doing anything to help maintain your fitness and overall wellbeing. While playing in the pool is fun and active, it’s not the same thing as exercising.
Summer presents a lot of challenges that make it hard to balance social gatherings and fun in the sun with regular workouts. But it doesn’t have to be challenging at all. I’m going to give you a few tips for staying on track with your fitness and health goals. Before I do that, let’s talk about why your fitness shouldn’t take a back seat to summer fun.
What Happens to Your Body During an Extended Break
Rest is an important part of anyone’s regular fitness. No one should push themselves to work out every single day without at least one day of rest. Your body needs rest to repair muscles and get stronger between workouts. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends 1 to 3 days per week of rest depending on how intense your workouts are.
If you’ve gone longer than a week without working out, you’ve experienced how it feels when you finally go back. You might feel weak or tired, short of breath, have discomfort while exercising, decreased endurance, and have difficulty doing your usual forms of exercise.
This phenomenon is known as deconditioning (or “detraining.”) The good news is that this is completely reversible once you get active again. The extent of deconditioning, or loss of fitness, depends on several factors.
Factors that Affect Loss of Fitness
If you take off 3 months, it’s going to be a lot harder to reverse deconditioning than if you only take a month off. It’s also a lot easier to get back in shape the younger you are. These are just two variables that can affect your fitness loss, which includes your level of fitness.
As you get older, your endurance, strength, and agility naturally decline. Staying active as you get older helps preserve functional fitness. A study on the long- and short-term effects of detraining found that loss of fitness was compounded as you age. That means someone in their 20s will have an easier time reversing deconditioning than someone in their 40s or 50s.
2. Time Away from Exercising
If you take a break from exercising from Memorial Day to Labor Day you’re taking a little more than 3 months off. That’s enough time to lose a great deal of body composition, metabolic function, and aerobic capacity, not to mention put on more weight than you lost to get to the summer. A study found that 2 months of detraining in elite athletes resulted in unfavorable changes in body composition, impaired metabolic function, and development of cardiovascular risk factors.
Although the time it takes to lose fitness levels starts at your level of fitness and how long you’ve been exercising, even the most religious gym-goers will experience a loss of fitness after an extended hiatus.
3. Your Level of Fitness
If you’re in pretty good shape and have been exercising for quite some time without an extended break, there is good news. It’s going to take a lot longer for your body to get out of shape. For example, if you are a moderately fit gym goer or have been exercising regularly for three months, it’s going to take you 2 to 3 weeks before you see any detraining effects. Someone who has been training more intensely will take a lot longer to feel any effects.
What Physiologically Happens to Your Body
When you stop exercising, your body recognizes this and begins to adjust accordingly. These physiological changes reverse the gains you made, including cardiovascular gains, weight loss, lower blood pressure, and muscle strength. Here are the key physiological changes your body may experience with an extended break at the gym.
Exercise is good for your heart. That’s fairly common knowledge, right? When you exercise regularly, your heart is more efficient in pumping blood throughout your body. You see this with a lower resting heart rate. When you go a few weeks without exercise, your heart loses its efficiency. One study found that most of the aerobic capacity gained through exercise over 3 months is lost within 2 to 4 weeks.
When you stop working out, you’ll notice that your muscles become smaller and weaker. If you’ve done high-intensity workouts or weight training, you may also experience a loss of muscle endurance (the number of repetitions you can do without needing a break). A study found that a break of 12 weeks resulted in decreased muscle mass and muscular strength, although the muscles can return to pre-training levels. The good news is that muscle memory helps reverse this effect once you begin working out again.
Blood Glucose Levels
Believe it or not, exercise helps your body efficiently use carbohydrates for fuel. Remember, carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of energy because carbohydrates are easier to convert into glucose than fats and protein.
Your blood glucose levels rise after you eat and then drop as your muscles absorb the glucose from carbohydrates for energy. Exercise speeds up this process. However, just three days away from exercise can cause your blood glucose levels to stay elevated after eating. The unfortunate consequence of being sedentary is that consistently raised glucose levels raise your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
When you stop working out, your body fat will increase. There are two reasons for this:
1) Your calorie requirement is lower if you don’t work out regularly. I like math, so here’s a quick easy example: A person who does 60 minutes of cardio exercise burns on average 400 calories. If your calorie requirement is 1,500, you can eat 1,700 calories and still be in a calorie deficit. That meaning that your body will turn to fat to burn for energy. What’s more, your metabolism slows down as your muscles lose some of their ability to burn fat as you lose muscle mass.
2) You’re not burning the same amount of calories as you used to because you’re moving around and working out less. Remember those 400 calories? If you don’t adjust your nutrition, the additional calories are stored as fat.
So, what can you do to avoid a loss of fitness due to a “summer break” from the gym or fitness studio? The best way is to not abandon your exercise routine in the first place. Here are 5 tips to stay on track and still enjoy yourself this summer.
Tips to Stay on Track During the Summer
It may not always be possible to work out on your usual schedule during the summer. Vacations, kids being out of school, social gatherings, and family and friends visiting can make it hard to find that hour to exercise. Or, maybe you just don’t have the motivation to get out and work out in the brutal summer heat. Here are a few tips to keep you moving this summer so you don’t lose sight of your fitness and health goals.
Mix It Up
Any movement is better than no movement. If you don’t want to go to the gym or the studio, create a summer fitness routine. Try taking a walk or going on a run on a new route or trail. Go to a park fitness class with friends. Join an outdoor sports league. Take a day trip to a cool hiking spot and remember to hydrate. Do a sunrise yoga class. One of the best ways to stay with your fitness goals is to try something new and get away from the same old routine.
Make Fitness Social
Plan workouts with friends. One of the benefits of fitness memberships and going to “your” gym regularly is that after going there for a while you develop friendships. This support system keeps you motivated and accountable, and make workouts more fun. Another suggestion is to get your workouts in early. I know that a lot of people don’t want to wake up early on a Saturday to go workout, but if you get it in early that leaves you free for the rest of the day to enjoy those summer festivities.
Watch Your Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol is a toxin and full of sugar. Many summer activities involve alcohol, but it’s important to create a boundary with it in the summer. Maybe limit it to one day on the weekend or reduce the total amount you drink in a typical week. Not to mention that alcohol can quickly dehydrate you in the summer if you aren’t drinking enough water with it.
I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, but it warrants repeating. Your body loses more water in the summer heat than it normally does. If you are spending time out in the sun be sure to drink plenty of water and electrolytes to stay hydrated, even if you aren’t drinking. If you’re going on a hike, be sure to bring enough water with you. If you’re going out drinking, drink one glass of water with every drink of alcohol. Not only will it help with alcohol absorption, but it will also prevent you from getting dehydrated.
Prioritize Your Nutrition
There will be plenty of good food at your disposal this summer, and a lot of it may not be healthy. The occasional indulgence isn’t going to throw your health and fitness goals into a downward spiral, so you don’t have to be too overly conscious about staying with your nutrition.
If you continue with your exercise routine, then you really don’t need to stress that you ate that sweet treat or had an extra cocktail. Aim to hit your nutrition targets at least 80% of the time and make sure you eat high-protein and high-fiber food before going to a summer party. This will help you feel fuller so you don’t over-indulge and have more awareness about treating yourself.
Consistency is Key
This is a general rule all year. Instead of “going hard” or trying to make up for missed workouts or over-indulgences, practice consistency. You cannot out-train bad decisions or make up those two workouts you missed by doing a double or spending an extra hour in the gym. Keep with your nutrition and avoid long breaks from exercising. As my mom used to say before I would go out, “make good choices.”
If you need help figuring out a good summer meal plan or workout routine, I’m here to help you. Schedule a free consultation and let me tell you how Very Well Wellness programs can put you on the path to a healthier, happier lifestyle this summer.
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Medical disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. While I am a certified nutritionist and wellness coach, I am not providing healthcare, medical, or nutritional therapy services or attempting to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any physical, mental, or emotional issue. The information provided on this website or any materials provided by Very Well Wellness is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute professional medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. Always seek advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before undertaking a new health regimen. Do not disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical advice because of information you read on this website or any materials provided by Very Well Wellness. Do not start or stop any medications without speaking to your medical or mental health provider.
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