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How Fast We Lose Muscle From Inactivity And The Serious Consequence This Has To Our Health

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 25 March 2020
Hits: 6598

With the current Coronavirus crisis sweeping the globe forcing gyms to close down and people being kept indoors for weeks on end many people may cease exercising entirely. While this may prevent the spread of the Coronavirus it does pose some new health problems as our inactivity wastes away our muscle mass. It is more important than ever to make sure you keep active when you are locked in self quarantine for the speed at which you can lose muscle is astonishingly fast. It is quite unfair really, for it can take months to build muscle but as little as 10 days to lose significant strength as we will show you in this detailed article. The older population will lose muscle even faster and the implications to the health of their body is significant once they have lost too much. This also explains why we often say, "you can never stop strength training". 

Recently I posted a great info-graphic about the benefits of strength training for your health. If you are one of those people that still think strength training is just for young people who want to bulk up and look good in a mirror, then this article is for you as you will see there is so much more to muscle than you thought. 

If you have ever been hospitalised for a long period of time, maybe broken your arm or leg and had it wrapped in plaster you will know exactly what it feels like to lose serious amount of muscle (known as ATROPHY) in just the space of a few weeks. I have broken so many bones I have lost count, but the one that really sticks out in my mind to how quickly atrophy takes place was with my right arm. I have broken my radius in my right arm twice requiring plaster for 4 weeks to let the bone heal. The last time this happened was back in 2007 when I fell off my mountain bike in a cross country triathlon. At that time I was 33 and close to the peak of my powers. I had been training like a beast with the weights and was lifting loads I had never done before in my life.

It took me a good 2-3 years of solid strength training to get to that high level of training but it only took 4 weeks to lose it all! For example I went from lifting 40kg dumbbells on a chest press to just 15-17.5kg for the first few weeks after while my muscles regained their strength. And it took me close to 6 months to get back to those huge loads again! It took over a year before I could do a push-up with my hands flat on the floor again. It seems so unfair that it takes so long to get it, but hardly any time at all to lose it.

This lesson proved to me that it is so important to find ways to keep moving no matter how bad things get and that you can mess up a lot more in one week than you can improve in six months of training. And in 2016 when I tore my ACL in my knee I had to find a way to get moving before my muscles wasted away completely. While it was difficult I was able to restore strength much faster than I thought I could by implementing strength workouts as soon as the inflammation settled. You can read more about this in the article I wrote at the time I was injured called what to do if you tear your ACL?

Just How Fast Do You Lose Muscle?

My story gives a good indication of how quickly you can lose muscle to a small area like your arm but this does not relate to what happens if you are completely bed ridden. At least I could still use my legs and my body was able to retain a fairly good amount of muscle mass which kept other more serious complications at bay.

There has been studies completed by many researchers and one from Luc van Loon, a professor of exercise and nutrition at Maastricht University in the Netherlands I found very interesting where you can find a detailed interview from him on the Mercola website.

The researchers found that otherwise healthy young male subjects in their 20's lost 3.1 pounds of muscle mass in a single week of bed rest! And while the bed rest was completely necessary for recovery from illness or injury, they found the significant muscle loss lead to various other negative health consequences such as insulin sensitivity.

This is something we have seen many times before with Cancer patients receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy. 

When someone has just been diagnosed with Cancer they think it would be wise to rest and do nothing to allow the body to save it's energy for fighting the disease. It sounds logical right? Unfortunately this is not true and actually makes it worse as Cancer loves the peace and quiet and thrives on the lack of activity. For without the activity from exercise the body is unable to complete many of the functions needed to sustain optimal health with our essential organs.

The muscles of active people absorb blood sugar in response to insulin much more effectively helping the pancreas to secrete lower amounts of this hormone and reduce its harmful effect on the growth of cancer cells. Lack of muscle has been shown to be a powerful contributing factor to getting the disease in the first place.

When we exercise the effect on the heart creates a series of changes to the system that increase oxygen absorption and energy production, lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels, resulting in less inflammation and significant efficiency of the body as a whole. Exercise is so important because it creates a series of biochemical and physiological changes that make it very difficult for precancerous cells to survive and prevent them from developing into a more adult growth.

You can read more about this in our article - Exercise benefits for Cancer patients

Another great study from "Extreme Physiology & Medicine" research showed similar results. It found you can lose 2.5% of your muscle mass in the first two weeks of bed rest and by day 23, you can have lost up to 10% of your quadriceps muscle mass.

For the older adult this is a potential disaster as this quickly leads to disability, and even worse a fatal fall! The risk of falls from muscle loss is very common and this is something that begins earlier than many think. It begins at a time when you could do something about it. Statistics in the US show that one adult over the age of 65 is treated in the emergency room for a fall every 18 seconds (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Quite an alarming statistic and even more scary when you consider that hip fractures are the most common injury from a fall and the number one cause of nursing home admission. Approximately 50% of those who suffer a hip fracture never fully regain their mobility and independence, and 50% of those die within the first year! 

Sarcopenia, Osteoporosis and Bone Density Loss

The danger of Sarcopenia, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and bone density loss contributing to poor posture, chronic pain, fractures and falls with the elderly cannot be overstated. Many of these things we begin to see in people who are not that old, and these factors can be well managed and even prevented by applying a well-designed strength training program.

Peak bone mass is reached at around 25 years of age and normally remains relatively stable until around the age of 50. However after the age of 50, progressive losses of bone mineral density begins to occur and as bones lose their density, becoming weaker the risk of fracture during regular activities increases.

Resistance training can actually increase calcium flow and allow muscles in older adults to perform like muscles many years younger. The best news is, what type of exercises do you think produce the greatest improvement in bone density? Body-weight functional movement.

Research has found that multi directional exercises with load improve bone density and bone strength faster due to the fact that they incorporate so many of the structural lines needed for everyday life moving. These are exercises like lunges, squats, single leg deadlifts, and many of the body-weight exercises you can do in your own home! By forcing challenges with these exercises with either load or speed, these lines adapt and create a structural change to the bones.

The secret is that we MUST keep moving!

This is where poor daily habits of becoming less active will creep up on you over time, and it is not a broken bone or serious illness forcing bed rest that will cause severe muscle atrophy to happen, but your long periods of inactivity. The recent lock-down of many cities due to the Coronavirus pandemic could very easily see people fall into this trap as they become so sedentary sitting all day behind computer screens and TV's. The danger to our health from sitting has been reported many times before and we have posted numerous articles about the damage sitting causes  

Unfortunately this unusual circumstance that we all find ourselves in could lead to a steady increase in back pain and other associated problems that come from sitting. Unknowingly many people will be rapidly losing muscle that will show no immediate concern but huge consequences in months to come. Remember once it is gone it is a long road back to getting your strength so it makes sense to never lose it in the first place.

It is not too late we can stop this and still stay isolated and prevent the spread of the virus, but we do need to understand the importance of exercise and especially adding muscle.

Shortly we will provide you with some great workouts you can use to in your own home to overcome this problem, but before we tackle this we must also address another factor contributing to muscle atrophy and that is nutrition and more specifically the lack of PROTEIN in our diet. 

Protein Is Just As Important For Preventing Muscle Loss


Another problem facing many of us with the Coronavirus is lack of access to high quality foods as many have stacked their pantry full of baked beans, pasta, and foods in tins. While we may not die of hunger we may suffer some consequences down the track from lack of quality nutrition with lack of protein contributing to muscular atrophy.

When we consume a single meal-like amount of quality protein, 55% of the protein derived amino acids are circulated around the body and taken up in skeletal muscle tissue. This stimulates muscle protein synthesis rates and allows for your body to build muscle tissue more effectively from exercise and movement.

The take-home message here is that protein is an essential dietary component for building muscle. But.......... make sure you exercise.

Inactivity desensitises protein signalling meaning your muscles lose their sensitivity to protein signalling from inactivity. It is not just about eating more protein and hoping your muscles get stronger. That is a nearly worthless strategy for muscle building if you fail to integrate the exercise element.

You can read more about protein and nutritional requirements for older adults in the articles shown below

What Can You Do If You Are Unable To Go To The Gym For A Workout?

As much as I love the gym and nothing compares to lifting weights you can create some very intense workouts just using your own body-weight and some creative thinking. Over the last week we have been sitting down to put together some great workout ideas you can use in your own home and how easy it is to use things in your own home as training tools.

We published a great article on body-weight training earlier this year and at the time we stated these exercises are highly under-rated. Many people do not realise some of the great benefits these provide such as:

  • They work the entire body as a whole with multiple joints all used at once, meaning it strengthens multiple areas
  • They are a natural functional movement to perform relate perfectly to practical day to day tasks
  • Body-weight exercises are often easier to learn and are generally safer.
  • They are easy to progress by applying tempo changes and additional reps
  • You require little space and can do these easily within your home

By far the biggest advantage that I see with these is their ability to improve stability of joints in the body and are critical for physical therapy treating injury.

Below is the first video you could use in your own home. 


This is a very basic video we very quickly put together to give you a well rounded workout you could use and how we adopted some things lying around to create load. We plan to do some other more unusual videos but I wanted to show you how you can easily create a kick-ass workout in your own home with no equipment other than a mop bucket and maybe a rubber band.

You don't always need loads to make an exercise harder, and in this video we show you that by changing the tempo and speed of the exercises is one of the most effective variations you can use. To prove this we firstly show an easy version of an exercise and then how you can progress this same exercise to a much more difficult version.

And if I really wanted to make this workout hard I would structure it into a circuit where there is no rest between sets of each exercise to create complete exhaustion. Read our detailed article - 4 Unique ways to use circuit training to see more on this

The second video we have today features a workout specifically for older adults. The focus on this workout is more to do with balance and functional movement as opposed to building fitness and being annihilated.


There obviously is a ton of other workout ideas we could continue to show you but sometimes the simple stuff is the best. If you have some equipment that is great there are many other exercises you can add to this and make your training very challenging and interesting. Stay tuned for more ideas soon but this should be more than enough to get you thinking about how to a great workout in your own home.

Do You Need More Help?

There are some great PDF reports shown below that features many of the best functional exercises and methods I regularly use with clients everyday. Click the image below to see more and get your copy.



This really is a very challenging time for all of us and we need to try and spend as much time looking after our bodies while under incredible stress that has been thrust upon us. I hope this article gives you some additional knowledge to share with others as to the true benefits of exercise and why we should be looking at it as much more than something to make us look good in a mirror. If used wisely it is as powerful a drug to our health as any medicine ever invented.

And lastly I do appreciate all of your nice comments and feedback and I hope we can come out of this stronger than ever when it finally is over. I wish you all to stay safe and be kind to your body.

For more ideas and information on specific topics I may not have covered in detail be sure to check out our INDEX PAGE on the website that has over 300 of our best articles. These are all sorted into categories for quick reference so you can find what you are after more easily. You can also subscribe to our FREE fortnightly newsletter by clicking here.

If you enjoyed this article, live in Melbourne and would like to organise a Free Consultation to discuss how we can help you improve your strength and movement fill in the form below and I will be in touch to schedule a time. (Currently due to the Coronavirus we are not open for any training but we can take your details and once we are back up and running we can get in touch.)

About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 14 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specialises in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.


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