Fit People Move Less When Not Exercising, Study Finds

October 19, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Brent Fikowski
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“Eating and resting.” 

That’s how the Fittest Man on Earth Jeff Adler said he spends his time when he’s not training in the weeks leading up to the CrossFit Games.

He’s not alone:

  • “If I’m not in the gym, I ain’t doing nothing. My wife likes to point out I manage to do everything very slow, except workout,” is how two-time Games athlete Dallin Pepper described his life leading up to a big competition.
  • “I try to answer emails, or read a book, or have productive phone calls, but it can be exhausting to do that in between two training sessions,” added eight-time Games athlete Brent Fikowski.

While it’s not surprising to hear this from Games athletes, turns out ordinary people are no different. 

A 2023 study out of the University of Copenhagen published in the Journal Current Nutrition Reports found that those who engage in a consistent, structured exercise program are more likely to avoid physical activity the rest of the day in favor of lazing around.

The details: The study was a systematic review of 24 previous studies and found that in 67 percent of the studies, people who followed a workout routine regularly tended to do less non-exercise physical activity (NEPA) the rest of the day—activities such as walking, riding a bike, or using a standing desk—often as a compensatory measure to having exercised. 

  • The research also showed that the reduction in physical activities among those who exercise regularly was true for those with a healthy body weight, as well as those who are overweight. 

Why this matters: Taking an “I exercised, so I can rest now the rest of the day” attitude is of particular concern to those looking to lose weight, suggested the study’s lead author Julie Marvel Mansfeld, as a reduction in NEPA hinders a person’s ability to lose weight.

  • Case in point: One of the studies analyzed found that the decline in activity the rest of the day led to 22 percent less weight loss than people would expect from embarking on a regular training program. 

The bottom line: CrossFit Games athletes might be able to justify their “laziness” between training sessions, but for the rest of us, the I have done enough, “I have earned myself couch time” thinking after logging a 45 to 60-minute workout at the gym is more likely to be doing a disservice to our health, especially for those of us looking to lose weight.

So while it can be tempting to think that a PR on your 2-km row means you deserve an extended couch lounging session watching football all afternoon and skipping the dishes, it might still be worth going for an evening walk. Or at the very least, taking the stairs instead of the elevator the next day at work.

And for the record, not all Games athletes lounge around during peak training times. 

Five-time podium finisher Pat Vellner, who has continued to work as a chiropractor throughout his career and has a young child at home, doesn’t have this luxury. Being able to do so “sounds lovely,” he joked, but ultimately he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I know it’s a trend with a lot of athletes…But I think it’s good to have other interests, because it’s a lot of wasted time and you can’t be an athlete forever,” he said.

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