Thinking of doing nothing over the holidays? Just two weeks of inactivity is too much for older people’s health
With the holidays coming up, you might be inclined to stay inside and catch up on the shows you’ve been meaning to watch on Netflix, but how much down time is too much if you’re trying to stay in shape?
Researchers at the University of Liverpool in England looked into the question and have found that two weeks or more could be a recipe for weight gain and a reduction in muscle size, muscle strength, and bone density, and that the effect is more pronounced in older people.
“The severe impact of short-term inactivity on our health is hugely important to communicate to people,” said Juliette Norman, one of the lead authors of the study.
Looking at how two weeks of relative inactivity affected normally active people between the ages of 20 and 35 and active people between 54 and 66, the researchers found that while both groups experienced the same negative effects—losing muscle and gaining weight at the same rate—the older people fared worse because they had less muscle mass and more fat at the outset, as older people normally do. Though participants didn’t routinely work out, all walked more than 10,000 steps a day before the two weeks; during the rest period, they all walked roughly 1,500 steps a day.
Older participants also saw a reduced capacity to supply oxygen to their muscles when exercising following the rest period, as well as less energy production in their cells, a factor that contributes to weakening the muscles. That means the longer you rest, the harder it will be to make gains once you decide to get moving again.
“If the gym is hard to get to, people should be encouraged to just meet 10,000 steps as even this can guard against reductions in muscle and bone health, as well as maintaining healthy levels of body fat,” Norman said.
Photo: iStock/Sergii Gnatiuk.