What is deconditioning, and why is it important?

By Courtney Turner

For some of you reading this blog, this information might be really familiar to you. For others, what we’re about to talk about might blow your mind and change the way you see your health. I’m aiming for those of you in the second group, because you’re more likely to be the person who really needs to hear this. 

What is deconditioning?

Deconditioning is when you have a decline in physical health, strength and fitness. The idea is that all of our bodies should be in good condition, and if we don’t do the right things it’s possible to lose that condition (hence, de-conditioning).

How does someone decondition?

Unfortunately, it’s really easy to decondition. Our bodies only build enough muscle to manage whatever physical stress is normal in our everyday lives. So if you’re in the gym three times a week pumping iron, your body will make sure it builds enough muscle that you can tolerate that kind of strain. If you go for a walk every day, your body will do the same thing. 

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But here’s the catch…

Your body will never build more muscle than it needs to, because that’s such a waste of time and energy. It’s kind of like if you cooked enough dinner for 10 people, ate your share and then threw the rest out. What’s the point in putting in all that effort when you didn’t need to? And it’s also very wasteful. Your body will never waste energy by making you stronger than the activities in your daily life demand.

So if you don’t do very much, your body won’t build very much muscle.

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This is where deconditioning starts.

If you stop doing much of anything, and find yourself spending more and more time sitting around the house, there’s not much demand on your muscles. Your life no longer requires a good amount of strength to get through the day. So your body will decide not to waste energy building muscle strength you don’t need. This is when muscles start to waste and strength declines, and before you know it you’ve deconditioned. Things that used to be easy now become quite difficult.

People usually decondition without realising it’s happening. Usually it’s a slow, quiet process until one day you wake up and find that doing the vacuuming is exhausting and you aren’t able to walk around the block anymore. You wonder, “what happened?” Not so long ago you were going out to see friends, completing all your housework, going to your job, playing with the grandkids or playing sports. Now suddenly having a shower causes you to puff like you’ve run a marathon.

If something like this sounds familiar, you’ve probably started to decondition. 

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Does it matter if I decondition?

Yes! In the early phases when you don’t notice it so much, it’s tempting not to be worried about feeling fatigued. The problem is that deconditioning is a downward spiral. Ask any physio or exercise physiologist, and every one of us can tell you about a person we’ve seen along the way who let it get so bad that standing up to go to the bathroom became a monstrous effort. Don’t let it get that bad!

What can I do?

Come in and see us. We can assess you and your individual needs, and come up with a program to gradually build your strength back up so that you can get back to the things you used to enjoy.