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How quickly will you lose muscle mass once you stop working out?

Sometimes life gets in the way and you miss a workout. Sometimes two, or five. So, you start worrying that your muscle mass will start deteriorating. If you’ve been out of the gym for a significant time, you may lose as much as a third of your muscle mass and strength, according to a study published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine.

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen did a study which involved 32 men. 17 of them were aged 20-30 and 15 who were aged 60-70. They were forced to wear a knee brace which immobilized one of their legs for two weeks. After 2 weeks had passed, the first group consisting of younger men lost between 21-33% of their muscle strength in the leg that was immobilized, while the second group consisting of older men lost between 20-26%.

This rapid decrease in strength might be shocking, but it was not the worst news. In order to restore their strength, the men started cycling regularly for 6 weeks, 3 times a week for 4 weeks and then 4 times a week for another 2 weeks. They managed to regain their muscle mass after these 6 weeks of regular cycling, however, their leg strength was still 5-10% lower compared to when they started the study.

Even though the study involved only men, it is very likely that they apply to women as well. The main takeaway point here is that it is of the utmost importance to stay physically active throughout your life. The results from the study don’t mean that you can’t skip a workout every now and then, but they indicate how fast you could lose muscle mass and strength if you reduce your physical activity to zero.

Even though the first group consisting of young men lost more muscle mass, muscle loss occurring in the older men group might still be the bigger issue since it has more potential to cause negative effect to the group’s ability to continue with their daily routines, like taking a walk, cooking, taking out the trash, climbing up the stairs etc. Losing 25% of your overall strength is a bad prognosis for your independence and overall quality of life if you’re over 70.

It has been suggested that you could rebuild the lost muscle faster with strength training. Studies so far have suggested that employing resistance training will allow the full strength of the muscle to be recovered. When you are unable to train because of an injury or you can’t get outside to take a walk, adding a weight lifting program to your daily routine will help shorten the recovery process.

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