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How Long Does It Take to Get Out of Shape?

Have you been a little less active than you’d like this winter? Well, you’re not alone. Colder temperatures and fewer daylight hours make it more difficult to stay active and motivated.

But how long does it take to actually get out of shape? It varies from person to person, and depends on how long you were active before your break, but most experts agree that it’s pretty simple: you either use it or you lose it.

Here’s what happens in your body when you go from an active lifestyle to a sedentary one:

After a few days

No change. A day off gives your body time to recover and grow stronger, so don’t worry about missing a day here or there. In addition to preventing overtraining, which can lead to injuries, rest days can also bring a much-needed mental break.

An athlete’s VO2 max is tested

After one week

This is the beginning of what fitness experts call “detraining” or “deconditioning.” Cardio fitness starts to decline in the form of a slightly lower VO2 max – a measure of the lung’s ability to do work – meaning you might be a little more winded than usual doing a task you’re used to. During this time, blood sugar and blood pressure levels also begin to rise.

A week off won’t cause huge drops in muscle strength or cardio ability, but it could signal that you’re falling out of your regular routine. Unless you’re resting for an injury, ask yourself why you’ve been missing days and what you can do to get back on track.

After two to three weeks

This is when most people start to notice losses in strength and endurance. Cardio fitness levels decrease about 10-20 percent. Muscular strength tends to stick around a little longer, but a few weeks off can still lead to a 20-25 percent loss in strength.

A layoff this long may also negatively affect your mood, stress level and even the quality of your sleep. These changes can make it even harder to get motivated again, so it’s best to avoid these long breaks if possible.

It can take three times as long to get back into shape, so a month-long layoff might mean a few months of dedication to get back to your previous fitness level.

Staying Active This Winter

Consider some of these indoor and outdoor activities to maintain your fitness level during the winter months. If you’ve been inactive this winter, remember to start slow – trying to lift or run as much as you did before could lead to injury and even more time off.


  • No gym membership? Get in a workout at home with simple bodyweight exercises that don’t require equipment.
  • Workout programs on DVD and Blu-ray are available for all fitness levels.
  • Head to your local gym. If available, group classes can be a great way to stay motivated.
  • Check out your local community center or sports center for activities like basketball, swimming or soccer.


  • Go for a walk or jog around the neighborhood or explore some local hiking trails. Search to find trails near you.
  • Find an activity the whole family can enjoy, like sledding or ice skating.
  • Participate in a winter sport like skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing.
  • Stay active by volunteering at a local organization you support.

If you’re outside, remember to dress in warm, lightweight layers that you can remove as your body heats up. Head inside if you start feeling lightheaded or if your hands or feet begin to feel numb.

The LHSFNA’s Build a Better Bodypamphlet and Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers series provide more information on how Laborers can stay physically fit. Go to and click on Publications to order or call the Health Promotion Division at 202-628-5465.

[Nick Fox]

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