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Lets understand deconditioning

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Deconditioning is a loss of physical fitness caused due to lack of optimal levels of physical activity. Compromised activity levels may lead to deconditioning. For example, not being able to walk outdoors at a local park with friends or making frequent trips to get groceries or unable to go to the gym due to COVID restrictions has led to significant decrease in activity levels. This change in lifestyle is gradually causing deconditioning.

Deconditioning involves your musculoskeletal and cardio-respiratory systems. One would notice getting tired , feeling weak, having shortness of breath, joint stiffness and the need to rest more frequently. Some would also think that this is part of getting older or progression of a chronic disease. That is partially true. With age due to lower levels of anabolic hormones one encounters less muscle mass and lower strength. Deconditioning further adds to this. With aging, there can be progressive and generalized loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength termed as Sarcopenia. Per decade after the age of 30 there is 3-8% decrease in muscle mass and this decline is higher after the age of 60. However, sarcopenia is also correlated with inactivity and decreased functional levels. COVID crisis has triggered a lifestyle change causing deconditioning primarily related to decreased physical activity levels.

Physical activity guidelines for Americans recommend a minimum of 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise training along with muscle strengthening exercises at least two days a week in order to have optimal health benefits.

After living a sedentary lifestyle it would not be advisable to jump right into heavy exercises or expect to reach the above recommendations right away . Your body needs time to get acclimatized. Age again would affect that adaptability. Maximal heart rate decreases with age and this can be further influenced by medications. So starting at low intensity levels for the first several weeks would be advisable. Working with an exercise specialist having knowledge in changes with aging would be vital at this stage. In a study done by Westcott et al , 1,700 men and women underwent 10 weeks of strength training . Each of the age groups, 20-44 years old, 45-64 years old and 65-80 years old added statistically similar amounts of lean muscle weight after the training. This suggests that individuals of all ages can have positive responses to progressive strength training and be able to gain muscle at the same rate during the initial training period. Another study done by Montana et al in 2018 had similar conclusions and their study emphasized that older adults do need individualized exercise prescription.

It would be hard to travel back in time to be exactly at your pre-COVID physical ability levels but moving forwards you can prepare yourself to be a better version of what you are now . This would be the right time to set goals on how to knock down deconditioning.

A key principle of neuroplasticity is ‘USE IT AND IMPROVE IT’ . All you have to do is believe , change your mindset and retrain your body to move more and get active. Because the body has not been utilized optimally for an extended period of time just starting to be more up on your feet or vacuuming more often or getting some push up’s at the kitchen counter will get you into the ‘USE IT’ zone.

So, in conclusion, understanding how external circumstances can alter your lifestyle and contribute to your problems is vital . Next, take action utilizing your internal potential and abilities to help transform from being unable to able and to sprint forward to be more active.

Resources for exercises :

References :

Santilli V, Bernetti A, Mangone M, Paoloni M. Clinical definition of sarcopenia. Clin Cases Miner Bone Metab. 2014;11(3):177-180.

Volpi E, Nazemi R, Fujita S. Muscle tissue changes with aging. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2004;7(4):405-410. doi:10.1097/01.mco.0000134362.76653.b2

Montano EE, Keith JM, Buchanan CA, Dalleck LC. Do Younger and Older Adults Experience Similar Adaptations to Individualized Exercise Training? Journal of Exercise Physiology Online. December 2018:41-59. Accessed January 2, 2021.

Tavoian D, Russ DW, Consitt LA, Clark BC. Perspective: Pragmatic Exercise Recommendations for Older Adults: The Case for Emphasizing Resistance Training. Frontiers in Physiology. 2020;11:1. Accessed January 2, 2021.

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