After a spirited upper-chest and love-handle workout, it's pretty easy to lean back in your bar stool and sigh, 'Nevermore.' Or, at least, not for a long while more please god.
But, alas, you're still on the treadmill.
And, according to a pair of recent studies, if you get off that treadmill for even a little vacation, your body may take a while to get back into gym mode. Indeed, while past studies suggest younger people bounce back readily from a timeout at the gym, even if it lasts for weeks, the new research suggests it isn't such a sure thing for people over 40 — which happens to be a crucial time to adopt an exercise regimen.
The studies suggest older people pay a steep price for longer periods of inactivity, and they may take a lot longer to shake it off at the gym.
For the first study, published in the journal Diabetologia, researchers at the University of Liverpool focused on 45 men and women — all adults and all exercising regularly. The researchers asked them to take it down a few notches, curtailing their daily step count from 10,000 to fewer than 2,000, while also spending at least two and a half hours each day perched on their posteriors.
During the subjects' inactive stretch, researchers noted "metabolic derangements" — spiking blood sugar levels, worsening cholesterol levels and fading muscle mass.
When back to regular workouts, all those ill health tidings disappeared in almost all the participants. A handful of volunteers slowed down noticeably and persistently. They couldn't match their previous levels of activity and even showed signs of insulin resistance.
A second study, published in July, echoed those findings, with an even older age group.
The study, conducted by McMaster University researchers in Canada, zeroed in on people in their 60s who were overweight but active. Subjected to a similar test, they showed even more pronounced health issues.
After a period of lower physical activity, volunteers had a much harder time getting back on track. Even two weeks after resuming an active lifestyle, insulin resistance stayed high and blood sugar levels remained unruly. In some subjects diabetes even reared its head.
"We expected to find that the study participants would become diabetic, but we were surprised to see that they didn't revert back to their healthier state when they returned to normal activity," Chris McGlory, lead author of the second study, noted in a press release.
If there's one health discussion that never flip-flops, it's whether we should exercise. Not only are regular workouts proven to benefit your body — building healthy muscle, staving off sickness and maintaining a strong heart — they also do wonders for the brain.
But what if the Mexican Riviera is calling? Can we take a two-week siesta? How about a month under the Bahamian sun, with nary a dead press in sight? Or worse, what if we're laid up with a health issue for a few weeks?
"It's not uncommon for older people to become sick or injured and wind up hospitalized or housebound for several weeks, or for someone who's younger to just decide to take a few weeks off," McGlory tells The New York Times.
"If it's at all possible, don't stop moving."