Muscle atrophy sets in within two weeks of the cessation of exercise. Those of you that were exercising before we were sent into physical distancing, if you haven’t been doing exercise, your muscles have already started to atrophy. It is important to do what you can at home, to at least maintain your muscle mass. If you are young, once you start working out again, you will regain your strength and possibly even exceed where you were over time. For older adults who have been exercising their whole life, if they take too long of a break from their regular exercise routine, when they return to exercise, they will improve from their strength but they might not regain the same level of strength that they had prior to an extend period of muscle atrophy.
When you have had a break of a month to years away from exercise, start with the basics and build. Please do not try to lift the same weight you did last time you worked out with! Please do the appropriate reintroduction of movements and load. If it's been weeks or months, it won't likely be as extreme as you not exercising for years but you want to ease your body back into it either way. For exercise at home, If you don’t have weights or exercise bands, you can use soup cans, milks jugs, or a bag (backpack, duffle bag, etc) filled with things like books or clothes; these can serve as your weights. You can also do body weight exercises. Getting outside for a walk, run or bike ride is great for your cardiovascular health, mental health, and emotional health; and can help maintain your lower body muscle mass.
Muscle contraction is great for bone health. As the muscle contracts it puts pressure on the bone which helps with bone density. This is why upper body exercise is so important. We often use our legs but unless we purposely do exercise for our upper body, it is often neglected. Upper body strength is also beneficial from everything from carrying groceries to carrying children to running and playing a sport. When your upper body is strong, life and sport can feel easier because then your upper body has the strength and endurance to keep up with your legs and the demands of your life.
Strength and Flexibility- If your body is weak, the muscles will tighten to create stability. If you decide to stretch because your body is tight, it would be wise to do some basic exercises to strengthen the weak muscles. If you don’t strengthen the weak muscles and you decide to stretch, the muscles may tighten just as much, if not more to create that stability. For further guidance, specific to you, please contact your physical therapist or personal trainer.