What Happens When You Don't Exercise?

We all know the good we do when we exercise. But do we really understand the awful things we do to our bodies when we don’t exercise?

Basically, ever since we humans stopped being hunter/gatherers and entered into “civilized” society, we have been slowly but surely killing ourselves with calories. We have become especially gluttonous in the last 50 years or so and have overloaded our systems with food, and our work and lifestyles are such that we hardly expend the calories we consume. Those calories that are not spent in physical labor get converted to fat and this fat is what makes us overweight and prey to a whole lot of lifestyle diseases. Much as we’d like to watch our calorie intake, our tongues often emerge the winner in the tussle between health and taste, and so those pounds keep piling on.

Most of us tend to put on weight when we don’t exercise and usually that’s the time when we get into the mood to burn off fat. But naturally thin people (yes, you lucky ones!) sometimes mistake their thinness for fitness. Remember that fit doesn’t just mean how much you weigh – there are genetically overweight people who can surpass the fitness levels of a non-working out “thin” person. If you still think that exercise is overrated, or are still hung up on not exercising because you are fit enough and think you don’t need it, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Trouble Sleeping: Tossing and turning all night? Waking up at odd hours and not being able to go back to sleep? Your lack of exercise may actually be affecting your sleep patterns and may be the root cause of your insomnia as well. Exercising tires you out while at the same time invigorating you – so regular exercise means that your body will crave sleep and that in turn will help you get those solid hours of restful sleep at night.
  2. Unhealthy Food Cravings: You may think that people who exercise and work out deliberately eat healthy food and avoid fatty and sugary foods as a lifestyle choice. While this is true in part, people who get regular exercise actually crave healthy food. This is called a “transfer effect” wherein once you start making positive changes to your life, your brain will automatically want that goodness to spread to other areas as well. Since you aim to get fit through exercise, your brain will kick off healthy food cravings to get you in the pink of health. Regretfully, the reverse is true as well. If you train your body and brain to be lazy and lax and avoid exercise like the plague, your brain will crave those calorie-laden chips and burgers and the whole thing will snowball into you being unhealthy, even if you look thin.
  3. Constant Fatigue: While being tired all the time can indicate a vitamin or mineral deficiency, it can also mean that you are not keeping your body at its optimum fitness level. If stairs wind you, and you can’t run after your kids or pet and even a hike seems like a punishment – it’s time to take stock of your exercise lag. Exercising improves both cardio and lung function, thus letting your body absorb more oxygen every time you breathe. When you don’t exercise, this capacity is reduced and you start to go breathless while doing normal and hardly strenuous things as well.
  4. The Risk of Injury: Not working out means your muscles, tendons, and ligaments are not as supple as they should be and also, their “reaction time” is far reduced than what it would be if they got to work out regularly. So if your body and muscles are deconditioned to “moving,” a sudden movement can actually end in an injury.
  5. Lowered Metabolism: Metabolism slows down as we age but it’s a proven fact that exercise can in fact raise the resting metabolic rate of a body – meaning the amount of calories we burn while we are sitting, doing nothing. This is because the more muscles you have, the higher the metabolic rate, and the more fat, the less the metabolic rate. If you want to burn more calories even at rest, all you have to do is get in regular exercise.
  6. Mood Swings: Not exercising or suddenly giving up on exercise can make you cranky, grumpy and even depressed. This is because exercise affects the happy centers of the brain and so getting some makes you happy and not getting any makes you depressed. Also, while exercising cannot take any stress away from your life like magic, it can help your body and brain deal with the stress so much better without leaving any lasting physical or psychological effects.
  7. Weaker Bones: Women especially suffer from weaker bones as they age, since the mineral density of the bones begins to degrade. Resistance and weight training can actually improve bone density, thereby giving you stronger bones not so prone to breaking.
  8. Quicker to Die: So yes, we are all mortals, and we were put on this Earth to ultimately die. But won’t it be great if we could live to a ripe old age and die of natural causes? Well, as it turns out, regular exercise is associated with a 30 percent decrease in all-cause mortality. This means people who exercise are less likely to experience death caused by disease and have a greater chance of dying of natural causes.

Sounds healthy, doesn’t it? Basically, there’s so much good to be reaped if you exercise regularly that it should probably be made into a law, right? Happy workouts to you…