Lazing around on holiday, recovering from an illness or spending just a few weeks glued to the TV watching Wimbledon could lead to significant muscle loss that requires significant retraining to get to back to where you ought to be.
A recently published Danish study has found, alarmingly, that it took just two weeks of physical inactivity in physically fit young and old test subjects, to lose a significant amount of their muscle strength and size. In each of the participants, the researchers immobilised one leg for 2 weeks and found:
- The young subjects lost about 30% of their muscle strength (on average 17 ounces of muscle – roughly 1lb or 0.5 kg) which left them with a muscular strength in their leg equivalent to ageing by 40 or 50 years in 2 weeks
- The older people by comparison lost slightly less – 25% of their strength on average (8 ounces of muscle- roughly 0.5 lb or 0.25 kg) when compared to their young counterparts.
- All of the men lost general physical fitness while their leg was immobilised.
Lead researcher Andreas Vigelsoe, from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark said: ‘The experiment revealed that inactivity affects the muscular strength in young and older men almost equally. Although for older people the loss of muscle mass is likely to be more critical, because it is likely to have a greater impact on their general health and quality of life as they have less muscle to start with. Total muscle mass normally declines with age. On average young men have about two pounds (1kg) more muscle mass in each leg than older men do.’
Even more worrying was that the researchers found the more muscle a person has, the more they will lose. This has the implication that if you’re fit and become injured, you’ll most likely lose more muscle mass than someone who is unfit, over the same period of time.
How long did it take to get back to normal?
The study showed it took three times the amount of time that you were inactive to get your muscle size back. After the 2 weeks of immobility the men then trained on exercise bikes. They exercised 3-4 times a week for six weeks. This exercise helped the men regain physical fitness and muscle size but, really importantly, not strength. In order to regain muscular strength following a period of inactivity you must include weight training, Vigelsoe added.
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