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While it is recommended that we should at least exercise for at least 30 minutes per day for at least 5 days in a week, sometimes it can be almost impossible. Whether it is because we have a deadline to meet at work, a family dinner you have to attend, you’re on holiday or you’re simply just too tired to exercise, everyday life can get in the way of these recommendations. But when it comes to taking off days, there’s one golden rule that you should keep in mind and that is to never take more than 3 days off.

Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin is a powerful hormone. It helps to reduce our blood sugars, a mechanism to keep our blood in a stable range of glucose levels so that we can live and function properly. It is also an extremely anabolic hormone, helping by decreasing the breakdown of protein and ensuring glycogen replenishment in our muscles, an important and fast acting fuel source. It can also slow down fat metabolism, an important evolutionary role during times where food sources were low.

Many of us are fairly insulin sensitive; that is the amount of insulin produced in the presence of glucose and sugars is just enough to do its job. However, with an increase in food consumption and a reduction in activity, a common occurrence in more affluent countries, insulin sensitivity starts to decrease. That is, in order to do the same job as before, our body requires increasing amounts of insulin to do so. This poses a problem as it puts pressure on our pancreas – a danger which can lead to type 2 diabetes, but it also means an increase in fat storage.

3 Days

That’s the number of days of reduced activity and increased food consumption that it takes before insulin sensitivity starts to decrease significantly. This was shown in a recent study which examined people who dramatically reduced their activity and increased their food consumption, typical of a sedentary lifestyle. The study showed that in just 3 days, insulin sensitivity had already reduced by 37%. Insulin sensitivity continued to decrease by day 7, but started to improve by day 14, however was still reduced by 26%. What was even more damning was the changes in body composition. By day 14, participants had gained a 49% increase in the amount of visceral fat they had. Visceral fat is the fat around your organs and is considered the more dangerous type of the 2 areas of fat storage; the other being subcutaneous fat or visible fat.

Food - The Main Culprit

In contrast to a previous study, it seems that the most potent factor in insulin sensitivity would be an increase in food consumption. A decreased physical activity level alone resulted in a 7% increase in the amount of visceral fat and a 17% reduction in insulin sensitivity. While this demonstrates that an increase in food consumption is more dangerous, a reduction in physical activity still results in significantly negative results.

Get Moving

It is always important schedule in off days from exercise and certain days where you can indulge in the foods you like to eat without feeling guilty. Just remember though that negative changes occur faster than you think; 3 days is all it takes. So don’t lay off the exercise and healthy eating for too long.

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Knudsen SH, Hansen LS, Pedersen M, Dejgaard T, Hansen J, Hall GV, Thomsen C, Solomon TP, Pedersen BK, Krogh-Madsen R. ‘Changes in insulin sensitivity precede changes in body composition during 14 days of step reduction combined with overfeeding in healthy young men.’ J Appl Physiol. 2012 May 3.


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