This Is What Really Happens To Your Muscles With Time Off From The Gym

mbg Contributor By Elizabeth Gerson
mbg Contributor
Elizabeth Gerson is a former mindbodygreen intern and a student at Stanford University studying Psychology and Communication with a specialization in Health & Development.

Image by Jovo Jovanovic / Stocksy

You've probably heard it before: Be careful taking too much time off of the gym; you'll lose all your hard-earned muscle. However, lucky for weight-lifting aficionados and newbies alike, studies using the newest technology in cell research have found this may not be the case.

When you put on muscle, whether that be with or without exercise, two things occur: The actual fibers grow, and you add "myonuclei," or muscle nuclei, to the cell.

Myonuclei are your best friends when it comes to putting the muscle back on and retaining that muscle after some time off. "The old adage 'use it or lose it' might be better rephrased to 'use it or lose it, until you work at it again,'" says Larry Schwartz, corresponding author of the study.

These myonuclei contain the most important parts of the cell as a whole, such as the DNA that controls cell function. Researchers examining insects and rodents found that while the muscle fibers may shrink in periods of inactivity or malnutrition, the myonuclei actually never disappear over time.

This finding is especially important for being our healthiest selves in our old age. The research suggests we should "bank" our muscle growth when we're adolescents since certain hormones and stem cells available in our youth help with quicker muscle growth. As we age and can't build muscle quite as easily, these myonuclei still hang around, which helps us retain muscle for longer and prevents the onset of frailty.

In terms of future research, Schwartz and his team want to focus on other ways muscle cells could die. Thanks to this discovery, however, our mindset about how often we can actually take time off of the gym for a much-needed recovery sesh could be seriously altered for the better.

With studies like these, building up strength is more important than ever. While maneuvering your way around the weight rack may seem a bit intimidating, think of it as an investment in your future health.

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