March 03, 2008

Whatever you do, don't stop!

[By Merry]
Ever read fairy tales? They're not politically correct, and they can be gruesome, but they can also provide useful metaphors. Like the one about the girl who put on these red shoes that made her dance and then she found out she couldn’t ever stop dancing.

If you've been exercising at all, you're wearing those shoes.

Once you start exercising, don’t stop
Paul Williams of the University of California at Berkeley showed that "interrupting an exercise program can cause you to gain weight that won't come off easily even after you resume training" (Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, February 2008). In other words, if you slack off on the exercising for awhile, you can’t just go back to the same old routine and expect to shed the pounds.

Weight Gained When You Stop Exercising May Be Hard to Lose
Williams divided his research subjects into low and high mileage groups. According to Williams, the people in the lower mileage groups were not able to lose the weight gained during time off if they just resumed the same exercise regimen. People who started running again after a break didn't lose weight until their mileage "exceeded 20 miles per week in men, and 10 miles per week in women."

Dr. Mirkin, in his wonderful ezine, says that "This study explains why exercise programs designed to prevent obesity may fall short if the exercise is irregular, seasonal, or often interrupted. "

Merry says "Now they tell us."

You're not in a position to cry "stop the treadmill, I wanna get off!"
Ideally this would have been useful information in November, not in March. If you've been pampering your inner slug this winter, then you might find yourself facing a bit of a challenge when you try to shed those pounds you gained from hibernating through the cold months.

(Do you like the way I say "you" instead of "we" in that last paragraph? This is a kind of distancing technique that people use when they don't want to face their own reflection in the mirror. Who knew that diction could be used as a form of self-evasion?)

This study worries me, because it's so easy for me to slack off during the winter and get back into the habit come springtime. I think that I'm not alone in this slacktitude, either. Amy, from the Runner's Lounge, gave a list of advice from an expert beginner. I prefer to think of myself as a re-beginner, but I am expert at starting over.

Of course, I realize you've all been very good this winter, and run 20 or 40 miles a week, so you don't need to worry about this study at all -- unless you have to stop running for some reason. Anyone, no matter how fit, can twist an ankle or injure a knee. If you find yourself in that situation, then you might want to intensify the workout once you get back on track.

Question for you: how many miles do you run a week? I'm curious.

(To read more details about Williams' study, check out Dr. Mirkin's ezine.)


  1. Hmm...I've had a sneaking suspicion for a while now that if I were to stop exercising I would suddenly gain weight. Wonder if that explains the mysterious 10 pounds I gained over the past year...I didn't completely stop exercising, but my schedule was not as regular as it had been.

  2. Heh. I run zero miles a week. I do intervals on some sort of gym machine (usually an elliptical) twice a week (okay, sometimes just once, but then non-interval cardio once) and lift weights twice a week. I tried running, hated it, and now have an excuse not to, in the form of a pesky hip flexor. See, that's me seeing the hip flexor as a *good* thing. I'd rather lift heavy things, anyway.

  3. Run?
    This is not what I wanted to hear at the end of a winter that I've spent saying "Well, when we finally get to move it will be easy to exercise--all I'll have to do is walk to the mailbox and back!" (That's .6 miles right there.) The cold, the snowy, icy roads between me and a place to walk--I haven't walked much but at least I've kept up with my yoga. I haven't put on any weight, either, but I was sort of hoping to lose some. Bleah. Spring, here I come.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  4. Well, this certainly explains a lot about the Bag Lady (who talks about herself in the third person...distancing?! Who knew?)

    Run? The Bag Lady? Hahahaha!!
    Only if something very big and bad was chasing her, and even then, it would probably catch her and end up with serious heart burn after eating all that fat...

  5. Hmm, I'm consistently inconsistent--I wonder if that will get me in trouble? I don't go for long periods of time without exercising but throughout the year there are always a few weeks here and there when I don't do nearly enough.

    But I think I would have noticed by now if these mini-lapses were problematic.

    Thanks for the warning--I think!

  6. "How many miles do you run a week?"

    I'd tell you, but as Jack Nicholson's character said in "A Few Good Men," don't ask for the truth, "you can't handle the truth!" :-)
    Dr. J

  7. Javachick, I agree. It was hard to keep exercising regularly. Ideally, the exercise should be so routine we don't even think about it, we just do it. Sounds good on paper.

    Jaime, do you get a good workout on an elliptical? I want to try one and see how it feels.

    Mary Anne in K., yep! Hard to run when it's icy out. Easy to slide, and then perform a kind of mobile game of twister while you try to maintain your balance and stay upright. I'm ready for spring.

    Bag Lady, when the subject is something that you don't want to apply to yourself, then I call it distancing. In some other situation, I'd probably call it artistic license :)

  8. Crabby, you're probably already getting a lot of running in, just running around looking for fixtures!

    Dr. J -- would it depress me? Naaah, probably it would amaze and impress me. I'm going to imagine the answer is in the triple digits:)

  9. What I liked about this study is that it specified mileage at which you could expect to see a result.

    Granted, the specific number of miles you need to run will differ for each individual. But it's so easy to say "well, I ran 5 miles this week and it didn't show up on the scale, so it's useless." Or danced, or ellipticalled (is that a word?), or whatever.

    This study encourages me to keep trying until I find the amount of exercise that I need to lose the weight.

  10. I don't run so clearly none of this applies to me. I can go back to outdoor bike riding oblivious to everything. Same as usual.

  11. This is a leeetle bit depressing given that I haven't broken a sweat in months...

  12. Merry, I *love* the elliptical. The key is a machine that has an adjustable incline and resistance. I think it's a great workout. And it strikes the right balance in leg/cardio exhaustion - when I bike my legs get tired before I'm breathing hard at all, and when I run I'm wheezing and panting before... well, before my legs hit the pavement. But ellipticalling (yes! a word!) gets my heart going and my legs feel it, and if I'm lucky I get a machine with a little fan in the top.

  13. I'm Canadian - I don't do miles :P

    I stopped working out after my two half marathons last fall and went up about ten pounds - coincedence? Not really, I was eating crap too.

    I've lost three and a half so far though since going back to the gym five days a week and WATCHING WHAT I'M EATING.

    Right now I'm running five km x five days a week but it's about to increase a little and add in hills and fartleks since race season starts.

    Will end up running about 30km+ a week (plus weight training).

  14. Thanks, Jaime! That sounds like it would provide a great workout!

    Um... Marie? Miles? Kilometres? You expect me to do Math?
    In the morning???

  15. Yikes! This research is NOT good news. Ugh!

    Well, maybe it'll keep me on the exercise straight and narrow.

    I'm only on week 5 of the couch to 5k program, so please don't ask me about distances yet. If I think about how much time I spend going such a short distance I'll be sad.

  16. Sorry to disappoint you Merry, "only" 70 miles a week :-(
    (That's 112.654 km, love those metrics :-)

    Dr. J

  17. frick.


    does none count?


    Runs If Chased

  18. I don't run, but I walk an average of 12 miles a week.


    I've also made an interesting discovery: I've started tracking my calorie intake more closely and it looks like maybe I shouldn't be on a 1200 calorie diet -- if I kick it up to 1400 my metabolism rebounds in a big way and I lose MORE weight! O.O (I know people say "don't starve, you'll wreck your metabolism!" but I had to see it to believe it.)

  19. I started running in September, and I'm up to about 9-12 miles per week, with weight training 3x per week and, ideally, an hour of cardio cross-training in there somewhere too (last week I tried a spinning class. Awesome, but scary - I highly advocate bringing friends).

    Wow - writing the workouts down makes me feel all hardcore. Whee!

  20. I currently run about 10-15 miles a week. I'm recovering from an IT band injury.. before i would run 6 miles a day, then my knee joint went out of wack and like clockwork it would shoot sharp pains around the 2nd mile. Now i've worked back up to 3-5 miles before a flare up.. I think i may have injured my IT band closer to my hip though, its been hurting even when walking which means i'm gunna be in another rut for a week or so...

  21. "In other words, if you slack off on the exercising for awhile, you can’t just go back to the same old routine and expect to shed the pounds."
    So *that* is what's going on with is quite annoying.

  22. PS - I think there should be an opt out clause for people like me who live in a frozen wasteland 30% of the year... I ran about 15 minles a week when I was running las summer...guess I have some work to do.

  23. Why did I start exercising? Maybe the weight would have been easying to keep off if I wasn't exercising. Don't run here, but the elliptical is my friend. At least 35 minutes daily. Guess I won't be stopping anytime soon!

  24. I don't run but I do exercise nearly every day.

    Now you tell me the more good things I do for myself, the more I am forced to continue to do them or I'll do more damage.

    Why doesn't that sound like fun???


  25. "it would shoot sharp pains around the ND mile"

    I had a similar problem when I first began running. Mine was Patello-femoral syndrome. Doing high rep, low weight, leg extensions totally cured me! Maybe, 30 reps four times a day with a dictionary in a backpack over your foot, with your knee flexing over a chair back even. Whether this would work for you, I don't know, but it worked so well for me I need to share! It's easier to demonstrate than describe, but it's the best I can offer.

  26. right now i'm training for a marathon, so i'm running 30-40 miles a week, but when i'm not training for a marathon... 10-15 miles. yikes! thanks for the info. :)

  27. I run when being chased by something scary & menacing. Thank god that hasn't happened in forever, because I think I'd only make it about 10 feet before I collapsed. I bicycle in the summer though.

  28. Wow, lots of people have something to say about mileage! (Sorry, M, kilometreage.)

    Dr. J, I think that's impressive in either miles or kilometers!

    Chickengirl -- was that uphill through the snow both ways? You get extra points in that case.

    Mizfit, Bag Lady, and Reb, I will try to find some scary-looking thug-type to chase you guys, if that would help. Actually, Reb, if you hold your cat, my dog will be happy to chase you. (She will be sad if she actually catches you&kitty, but she loves the chase part.)

    I can sympathize with all the people who've been hurt by running or find it too cold outside to run. I think we all need to find some kind of indoor exercise where we can break a sweat. (I'm with you, Jen, it's been too long!)
    anon & anon, maybe you guy(s) should try ellipticals too?

    Bicycling is great exercise, but I think you have to go a lot longer than running to get the same amount of workout. Still, the plus side is that you /can/ go a lot longer without getting injured :)

    Happy Blog Chick, Emily, Whitney, you all get the Merry salute of respect. Yer putting me to shame, but that's only what I deserve for pampering my inner slug.

    And if you're missing your favorite crustacean -- Crabby's still on the road, but she's managed to smuggle over a new Crab post, all ready to be served up fresh tomorrow!

  29. Merry: It's uphill on a treadmill while it's snowing outside. Does that count? ;)

  30. Weeeeeeellll, ChickenGirl, the judges might be a bit snarky about that. Tell you what, I'll appeal to Crabby, see if she can influence the judging ;)

    (Personally, I think it counts!)

  31. Yikes! I've wandered into a fitness blog. It's full of people who "run" and can spell elliptical.

    Is there a quiet corner where the more sloth-like can sit and ponder upon all this? It's depressing. It sounds as if my little bit of exercise will just make it harder to lose weight.

  32. Dawn, shhhh!
    whispers they think they're the only ones here

  33. I'm currently doing about 5+ hours of sweat-inducing stuff per week - not all of it is cardio, but it's all heart-rate-increasing. According to the trainer-who-knows-all, to lose weight (which is what I'm aiming to do) exercise needs to be constant and heartrate needs to be up to a certain level. So I'm doing *something* every day - minimum of 30 minutes on the day I play high impact sport, otherwise at least 45 minutes with a combination of cardio and/or weights. Crazy times.

    Supposedly the trick is that once you reach 'goal weight' (not that I have a particular number in mind, so much) you still have to be exercising, just not quite as vigourously, or as 'every day' to quite the same extent..

    Sorry, novel writing.

  34. Wow, what a great discussion! (And Dawn, slothfulness will always be allowed/celebrated here at Cranky Fitness or my name isn't Crabby McSlacker!)

    I'm taking a quick peek at the computer this morning before hopping on the Dreaded Airplane, but should be back to California before too long and hopefully less slothful myself about exercise and blogging and blog visits.

    Thanks Merry for a great post and thanks everyone for stopping by!

  35. I don't run any miles. I did gain 30+ pounds in less than a year when I stopped exercising. I'm not a gym person and I didn't feel comfortable working out where I was staying. My living situation changed, I'm back to working out and the weight is dropping.

    I want to lose weight slowly since I don't want a big transition between weight loss and maintenance. I don't feel deprived eating the way I do and I could do this for life. It doesn't matter if it takes me a year to lose the rest of the weight (14 pounds left).

    However, I found that my muscle didn't lose their strength in the six and half years that I didn't work out so all is not lost if you can't exercise for awhile time.


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