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What happens to your body when you don’t exercise

By Rachael Attard, Updated May 18, 2021
What happens to your body when you don't eat

Exercising has been a part of my life for years. At times, I’ve worked out to look a certain way, feel a certain way, or even to achieve certain fitness goals.

Don’t get me wrong, those things all still motivate me. But, at the end of the day, I exercise because I know it is key to being healthy. I feel better when I exercise, and I know I’m doing something that will help me long-term. :)

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t exercise regularly. I understand why — life can be overwhelming, workouts seem intimidating, or they don’t know where to begin. I hope to help explain why exercise is so important to your health and wellbeing and provide some doable examples of physical activity. :)

What Does Physical Inactivity Mean?

Most of us sit a lot. We work sitting down, we commute in cars or buses, and we spend our free time sitting on a couch or in bed. If you spend a lot of time sitting or lying down, you are probably physically inactive. For most people, being physically active requires being intentional about your lifestyle decisions.

In general, experts recommend getting 30-60 minutes of moderate physical activity (like walking!) 3-4 times a week. Moderate activities can include gardening, walking, climbing stairs, yard work, intense house cleaning, and dancing. More intense forms of exercise, like strength training or running, count too.

RELATED POST: Is Walking or Running Better for Fat Loss?

effects of physical inactivity

How Much of the Population Is Physically Inactive?

Throughout the world, people struggle to be active. According to the World Health Organization, about 1 in 4 people worldwide are physically inactive. However, that number jumps up significantly for teenagers. More than 80% of children aged 11–17 years do not get enough physical activity!

Physical inactivity is worse in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Americas, Europe, and Western Pacific regions. People are most active in Southeast Asia.

Reasons for Physical Inactivity

There are a variety of reasons why people are less active. Some of these reasons are personal. For example, so many people tell me that they feel too busy to exercise, and many struggle to find ways to be physically active that are fun for them.

But, beyond this, we also just have lifestyles that don’t force us to move our bodies. We tend to drive places, rather than walk or cycle to them. Additionally, so many of our favourite relaxing activities require sitting. We watch movies, spend time on our phones, play video games, etc. Even grabbing a meal with friends is a sedentary activity!

Some people also don’t live in places that make physical activity easy. For instance, throughout the world, some people might:

  • Not have access to good sidewalks to go on walks.
  • Have lots of traffic.
  • Experience poor air quality and pollution.
  • Live in an area that isn’t safe.
  • Not have parks or affordable sports centers nearby.

RELATED POST: 9 Fitness Tips for Busy Women

What Happens to Your Body When You Don’t Exercise

what happens when you don't exercise

Most of us understand that exercise is important for health, but you might not know how much it affects your body long term. Here are some of the ways a lack of physical activity can affect your body:

Higher Risk of Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Disease

People who don’t exercise are much more likely to develop high blood pressure. In fact, they have a 30-50 percent greater risk of developing it than somebody who does exercise.

Over time, high blood pressure causes damage to the blood vessels. This can lead to heart disease, kidney problems, and strokes.

But, even without high blood pressure, a lack of exercise is correlated with cardiovascular disease. Cardio exercise is necessary for a healthy heart.

RELATED POST: Is Cardio Good for Losing Belly Fat

High Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Exercise helps to improve insulin levels, and it helps the body control blood sugar. A lack of exercise does the opposite, and it plays a big role in developing Type 2 Diabetes.

In fact, some studies indicate that exercise isn’t the only factor. Instead, staying active throughout the day is key — and most experts say that getting about 10,000 steps in is important for this. Elevated glucose levels build up quickly in the body, so it is important to be consistent with exercise and to avoid long periods of time without moving. That’s a good reason to pause your computer time and stretch! :)

People with Type 2 Diabetes often experience heart disease and nerve damage. Exercise can also help reduce the risk of both of these things for people who have already developed diabetes.

RELATED POST: What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Sugar

Increased Risk of Cancer

Weight gain and cancer are related. Having a healthy weight can help reduce your risk of cancer, and staying active is one way to help manage your weight.

However, exercise has other benefits that can help reduce your cancer risk. Exercise helps:

  • Manage your hormone levels. Having high levels of hormones like estrogen is a risk factor for breast cancer.
  • Lower your insulin levels, which are connected to breast and colon cancer.
  • Reduce inflammation throughout your body.
  • Improve your immune system.
  • Help the digestive system, which might help lessen your chance of exposure to carcinogens.

RELATED POST: How a Hormone Imbalance Can Cause Weight Gain

Can Affect Your Mood

Exercise is a great way to boost your mood. When you do physical activity of any kind, your body produces endorphins that help you feel happier and even improve your pain tolerance. Exercise can also help reduce symptoms in people who suffer from depression and anxiety.

The flip side of this is also true. People who don’t exercise or stop exercising tend to experience a decrease in mood. In fact, studies show that a lack of physical activity increases your risk of developing a mental health disorder.

Can Lead to Obesity

Living an active life helps you burn more calories. The more intense your activity and the burn of it you do, the more calories you burn. If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.

In addition to this, regular exercise can help increase your metabolic rate. This can help delay and prevent weight gain over the long term.

How to Be More Physically Active

how to be more physically active

Start Walking

If you know me, you know I love to walk! :) Walking is an excellent form of cardio, and it is a good way to introduce activity into your life. Walking burns a lot of calories, helps with fat loss, and is great for your heart. It also isn’t too hard on your body, which means that you’re able to do it day after day without feeling burnt out.

I know some people struggle to incorporate walks into their day. Here are a few tips:

  • Get a dog! Ok, don’t get a puppy just for the walks. But, if you are already thinking about getting a dog, think about this as another plus. Dogs keep you active and are a great way to force yourself to move too.
  • Listen to podcasts or audiobooks. They help the time fly!
  • Ask a friend or partner to walk with you. Instead of meeting up for coffee, go for a walk together.
  • Walk to your errands! If you live close enough to your local grocery store, library, etc., consider walking there instead of driving.
  • Have a goal in mind. Tell yourself that you’ll walk a certain number of steps, minutes, or kilometers/miles per day.

RELATED POST: Why You Need Cardio for Lean Legs

Do Yoga

Yoga is awesome if you spend a lot of your day sitting. Try mixing in some yoga moves throughout your day to help relieve back pain and improve your flexibility. It is also great for your posture! Consider setting reminders on your phone if you’re busy or prone to forgetfulness. They can help remind you to get up from your desk, drink some water, and stretch.

I also like doing yoga first thing in the morning to stretch it all out or right before bed as a nice way to relax.

Exercise as You Do Your Chores

We all have to clean, and some chores can be mini-workouts by themselves. Carrying laundry, scrubbing a floor, and even vacuuming can make your body work.

If you feel like this isn’t enough, consider adding in moves while you clean. For example, try doing leg lifts in the kitchen right before you do the dishes, or dance while you vacuum.

Have a One-Person Party!

Time to blast some music! Play your favourite songs and dance away. After a few songs, you’ll be out of breath! Dancing burns plenty of calories, and it is also a great way to improve your mood. :)

This works great with little kids too. They love to join in the fun!

Work Out When You Watch TV

Watching TV is a great time to exercise, especially if you’re the type of person who doesn’t enjoy working out. Consider doing resistance training, stretching, or even cardio in front of the television. If you have a treadmill, you can run or walk on it as you watch.

Do whatever it takes to keep your body moving. :)

Stand Up at Work

It is best to try to stand up every 30 minutes if you can. I know this isn’t always realistic, but it is a good goal to set. Disrupting your time sitting can help improve your blood flow, your posture, and your mood.

Standing while you work is even better! If you can, consider using a standing desk, or even try setting your computer on a stack of books.

Physical activity is so important, and I am passionate about figuring out ways to help people move their bodies. How do you stay active throughout the day? Let me know any extra tips you have in the comments. :)

Love Rachael Xx

Picture of Rachael

Rachael is an Australian born certified personal trainer and nutritionist who holds a Bachelor degree in Science.

After struggling for years to find an exercise and diet program that is tailored to women striving for lean and toned body with no bulk she designed her Lean Legs Program. This program is tailored to each body type and focused on helping women get toned but feminine bodies, without getting bulky.

Her mission is to empower women and help them stay in shape in a healthy and balanced way.

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8 comments on “What happens to your body when you don’t exercise”

    Jessica says:

    Hi Rachael,

    After calculating my daily macro needs using your calculator, I found out that I need to consume 2430 calories to lose weight. However, I’ve only been eating around 1800-2000, but I am never hungry, and I always eat until I am full. Will this impact my metabolism?

    And lastly, thank you so much for these blogs! They have been a tremendous help in my weight loss jouney :)

    Thanks,
    Jessica

      Lean Legs Support says:

      Hey lovely,

      Were you able to choose ‘moderate’ as your activity level and ‘losing weight’ as your goal? If you need any help with calculating your ideal daily calorie intake and macros, feel free to reach out to us at info@rachaelattard.com and we’ll gladly help. :)

      Love,
      Len

    Cici says:

    Hi Rachael! I also do morning and evening yoga! I stand up at work (from home) by using a bookshelf. I also got myself a Fitbit watch to count my steps. I do strength training 3 times a week, kickboxing 5 times a week and walk every day from 10-20,000 steps. It is easy to walk back and forth in my home office during working hours which can bring me up to 10,000 steps or near that within 7.5 hours. I then do an extra 10,000 if I have time after work for an hour and a half walk. I have signed up to your program too since I want to lean out my legs!

      Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,

      It is so exciting that you just started this fitness journey with us. Following Rachael’s workout plan together with cardio will definitely help you achieve your goals. Kickboxing is great but I would advise that you only do it in moderation. Overtraining can sometimes become counterproductive especially if your goal is to slim down your legs. :)

      If you need any help or tips, feel free to reach out at info@rachaelattard.com

      Love,
      Len

    Michelle Pereira says:

    Hi Rachel,

    I’m loving your program so far’ just started a week ago! Thanks for this reminder. I’m currently petsitting and started doing push ups and leg lifts as I’m here playing with them! Love your tips

      Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,

      We’re glad to know that you enjoy reading Rachael’s blog posts. We wish you all the best in your fitness journey!

      If you need any help or tips, feel free to reach out xx

      Love,
      Len

    Sophia says:

    Thank you Rachael for everything you do ;), your Blogs are always really well done and motivating! I just bought your lean legs program and am thrilled to start on Monday when my quarantine is over (just moved overseas from France to Canada)

      Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,

      We’re so glad to know that you enjoy reading Rachael’s blog. :) Good luck with your training and if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us at info@rachaelattard.com

      We wish you all the best in your fitness journey!

      Love,
      Len