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What really happens when you skip a workout

Tuesday - 5/21/2013, 9:18am  ET

Workingout_GymBag.jpg
Even with a busy schedule, making time for working out is worth it -- especially since your body and mood immediately start to change with lack of exercise. (Thinkstock)

Josef Brandenburg, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON - We all skip workouts. When schedules are busy or conflicting plans are presented, it's easy to pass on the gym every now and then. However, if skipping a workout becomes a pattern, realizing how quickly our bodies go into "reverse mode" can help put you back on track.

By day two of not working out, the "feel good" chemicals produced by exercise -- endorphins, adrenaline, etc. -- drop, and so does your mood. Energy levels and productivity also begin to decline.

The irony is that workouts are often skipped during the times we need them the most, such as busy or stressful periods in life. Those "feel good" chemicals mentioned above are also natural appetite suppressants. Therefore, decreasing physical activity sets your body up for craving bad foods and gaining fat.

By day three, your muscles begin to stiffen, and your heart and lungs are already 5 percent less fit.

And by the end the first week, your metabolism slows down and your body fat levels creep up. One of the main reasons your metabolism slows is because your body's ability to use oxygen has already dropped 10 percent, and your body needs oxygen to burn calories.

Within two weeks, your body starts negative recomposition. This is when you lose muscle and gain fat at the same time. Your heart and lungs are now 15 percent less fit.

By the third week, your metabolism is a shadow of its former self because your body's ability to use oxygen has dropped by 20 percent. Besides making you squishier, the decrease in oxygen use also makes you more tired because you need oxygen to run your metabolism. In short, you aren't producing as much energy as you used to.

By the 25th day, you've already lost 10-15 percent of your muscle mass. If your weight has been steady, this means that your muscle has been replaced with equal parts fat.

By the 29th day, strength levels have dropped by up to 30 percent.

The best way to avoid these symptoms is to remain active. Here is some practical advise on how to be more consistent with your workout schedule so that your sleep, mood, metabolism and physique will not take a hit.

  1. Do less. If you normally do three sets of the exercises in your workout, but are crunched for time or are too exhausted to maintain your normal activity, show up and complete only one set. You will feel better and you will have stopped the negative changes in your body, outlined above. One set is not the same as three, but it's definitely more than zero.

  2. Start with 10 minutes. If you're fighting with yourself about whether to complete a workout, try this: One of my favorite techniques is to force myself to get the first 10 minutes of my plan done. I tell myself I can quit after 10 minutes and go back to work if I want. Once I get going, I never quit after 10 minutes because I always end up thinking, "Man, I feel great! It's like this exercise stuff works. I've got to do more because I'll work so much faster and better later."

  3. Don't wait until you're empty. When you die you will still have stuff on your to-do list and you will still have emails to which you need to reply. If you are even reasonably successful and ambitious, you will always have more to do than you can accomplish. So if you wait for the rare day that you get every email answered and are 100 percent caught up on work, you'll workout four times a year. If you don't make the time to take care of yourself now, you'll be forced to make that time later when you get sick because you neglected your body.

Editor's Note: Josef Brandenburg is a D.C.area fitness expert with 14 years of experience and co-author of the international best-selling book "Results Fitness." In 2004, he started The Body You Want personal training program, which specializes in helping you get the body you want in the available time you have. You can also check out his blog, follow him on Twitter, or check out his fitness videos on YouTube. Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter.

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