Image: Bridget Jones
With the festive season just around the corner, we’re all looking forward to a holiday. It’s a chance to relax and indulge in plenty of eating, drinking, spending time with family and friends and being generally merry.
For many, exercise is one regular activity that takes a backseat over this period. But can a two week break really affect your body and fitness levels that much? According to the experts, the unfortunate answer is… yes.
“Your strength and flexibility won’t change too much but your cardio fitness will fall dramatically. You can lose about 20 per cent of your peak cardio fitness in two weeks of sedentary behaviour,” says Thamsin Dunn, National Master Coach, Fitness Instructor and First Aid for the Australian Institute of Fitness.
“This can be a worry, as for some people this can be demotivating enough to not get back into exercise afterwards.”
Watch: Tips for a healthy holiday. (Post continues after video.)
According to nutritionist and exercise physiologist Gabrielle Maston, the change can happen in as quickly as a matter of days.
“In as little as four to five days you will notice a decrease in strength and there will be muscle loss from inactivity. These feelings will be compounded if you lose muscle from not training and gain body fat from over eating,” she says.
Giveaway signs of changes include feeling out of breath doing things like walking up stairs, as well as a number of physical changes in your body over this time.
If you stop exercising but eat the same amount (or more – and given it’s Christmas, who won’t?!) you may notice your bowel movements aren’t as regular or clean and your tummy and face become bloated.
“How much weight you’ll put on depends on your intake, but if you binge and drink heaps you might put on three kilograms of real weight, not water weight,” says Dunn. (Post continues after gallery.)
The effects aren’t just physical — you could explerience noticable changes in your sleep patterns too.
“You’ll be more tired in the morning when you wake up, and have more trouble going to sleep at night. Regular exercise supports healthy circadian rhythms – take that away and you get all out of whack. Plus, if you aren’t working, you are more likely to lounge in bed in the morning on your phone. This will make any feelings of apathy worse,” Dunn adds.
The constant feasting can also affect your ability to get a decent night’s sleep.
“Too much food and alcohol can lead to disruptive sleep which can increase your cortisol levels. This means that your ability to manage stress is compromised. When we feel stressed and tired, our ability to make good choices, especially where food is concerned, is altered,” says Jetts Personal Trainer, Amanda Brown.
This can become a vicious circle. The more tired you are, the more energy your body needs to cope – which has you turning to high calorie foods.
The most significant sign will be when you start back exercising, whether it's at bootcamp, at the gym or running. We won't sugar coat: it will be tough, but it's important to persevere.
"Your first session will hurt, especially your lungs, and you'll feel pretty bad afterwards - no post exercise glow here," says Dunn.
"It's often here where most people just give up. But after two weeks of careful food intake and slowly increasing your exercise intensity, you should be back to your pre-christmas condition."
Given it's two weeks at arguably the best time of the year, we're all in the same boat when it comes to juggling the "I-want-to-feast-every-day" with the "I'm-going-to-the-beach-tomorrow" feels.
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If you've worked hard all year, don't feel guilty about giving yourself a break. However, if you are concerned consider cutting down on exercise rather than cutting it out completely.
"Even if you only mange 15-20 minutes of exercise each day this is enough to maintain your gains. It is easier to stick to a routine in a maintenance program, than to start again," advises Maston.
"Make exercise the way you socialise with people - meet up with friends at the beach, go for a walk together and just get outdoors."
How do you stay healthy over the festive season?