Take exercise holidays? Your body can not thank you

    Abdulaziz Sobh

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    Two new studies analyze what happens when we do not exercise or move a lot during a period of time.

    In the height of summer, naps on the beach can be attractive, and many of us may be tempted to take extended vacations from exercise.

    But two new admonitory studies involving older and younger adults that temporarily reduce their physical activity indicate that the metabolic consequences of not moving much during a few weeks can be persistent and persistent, to some extent even after people begin to move normally. again.

    Physical activity is, of course, good for us and our metabolisms. Among other effects, muscle contraction burns blood sugar as fuel and, in response to signals from the hormone insulin, also stores part of it for future use. In the long term, these conditions help our bodies avoid hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.

    But what happens when, as a result of choices or circumstances, we do not exercise or move around a lot during a period of time?

    In some previous studies with healthy and active young people, often university students, the consequences have been rapid but reversible. When these volunteers have sat in their beds and chairs for days on end in the interest of science, they have often developed elevated blood sugar levels and some initial symptoms of insulin resistance.

    But within a day or two of returning to normal activities, their metabolisms usually stabilized and blood sugar and insulin levels decreased.

    Many of us, however, are not young and strong college students, and if the impacts of being inactive, even for a short period of time, are likely to be so ephemeral to us it has been less clear.

    Then, for one of the new studies, which was published in June in Diabetologia, researchers from the University of Liverpool in England and other institutions asked 45 adult men and women to abruptly begin to sit down more.

    The volunteers had previously been active, walking more than 10,000 steps on most days, according to the monitors they used for several days at the beginning of the study. They had also been metabolically healthy, showed the tests and did not have diabetes, although some had close relatives with the disease.

    During the study, the volunteers simply stopped moving a lot, reducing their daily steps to less than 2,000 and remaining seated for more than three and a half hours a day, a routine that they continued for two weeks.

    Then, the researchers re-checked their metabolisms and body compositions and asked them to return to their previous activity levels for another two weeks, after which the tests were repeated.

    The results proved to be consistent if troubling. Almost all volunteers had developed what scientists called "metabolic disorders" during their two weeks of being still. Their blood sugar levels increased, their insulin sensitivity decreased, their cholesterol profiles became less healthy and they lost some muscle mass in their legs as they gained weight around their abdomen.

    Fortunately, most of these disorders were reversed once men and women became active again.

    But for reasons unknown, some of the volunteers did not return to the same level of exercise they had engaged in before. Now they completed fewer minutes of vigorous activity each week than before and had some mild but lasting symptoms of insulin resistance, even after two weeks of normal movement.

    The consequences of the sudden inactivity were more serious and, in their own way, poignant in the other new study, which was published in July in The Journals of Gerontology.

    It focused on overweight people over 65 who were already at risk of developing diabetes because they had high blood sugar levels. But otherwise, they were healthy and active, walking around 7,000 or 8,000 steps every day.

    Now, as in the other study, they sat down, reducing their steps to less than 1,000 a day for two weeks, after which, during the last two weeks, they moved normally.

    Like the adults in the other study, these older volunteers quickly developed worse blood sugar control during their two weeks of barely moving. Resistance to escalated insulin. Some developed changes in muscle tissue that indicated they could soon start losing muscle and some had to be removed from the study because they had reached true type 2 diabetes after becoming inactive.

    For most of the men and women who remained in the experiment, their undesirable metabolic changes did not completely reverse after two weeks of moving again.

    The result of these findings is that a few weeks of inactivity could leave us worse, perhaps for a prolonged period, with health consequences increased by increasing age, says Chris McGlory, a researcher in kinesiology at McMaster University in Canada. who directed the study of the elderly.

    "It is not uncommon for older people to get sick or injured and end up hospitalized or confined to their home for several weeks, or for someone younger to decide to take a few weeks off" from regular exercise and physical activity, he says.

    But "if it is possible", he says, "do not stop moving".

    Talk to a physiotherapist about activity options if they have injured you or are hospitalized, he says. And instead of taking a vacation from the exercise, consider perhaps exercising on your vacation. The beach can be as attractive to take a walk as a nap.