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Does muscle turn to fat when you skip workouts?

If you skip a workout, will your muscle turn into fat? The holidays are often hectic, so it is common for workouts to fall by the wayside when life gets busy. But what happens to your body when you skip your once-regular exercise regimen? Hahns Petty, an exercise physiologist at Piedmont Atlanta Fitness Center, weighs in.

Can muscle turn into fat?

A common misconception is that fat will replace muscle if you stop exercising.

"It's absolutely not true," says Petty. "Fat cells and muscle cells are different structures and are not interchangeable. It would be like an orange turning into an apple. It's not possible."

So why do your arms start to look flabby when you aren't hitting the weight room?

"A lot of people feel and look less tight and toned when they stop working out," he explains. "It's more of a cosmetic thing."

When you aren't working out regularly, your body composition starts to change. With little physical activity, muscle cells will shrink. With less calorie burn, fat cells will start to expand, making the body look softer.

How to stay fit during the holiday season

While it is common to be busy this time of year, exercise shouldn't be pushed to the backburner. Not only will regular activity help you look great at holiday parties and in photos, exercise will give you a big boost of energy and endorphins so you can happily get through your to-do list and late nights.

Petty offers the following tips for fitting in exercise no matter how busy your schedule:

  • Get it done first thing in the morning. Wake up half an hour early (before everyone else) and squeeze in a workout. This is especially helpful if you have family in town and won't be able to get to the gym or go for a run later in the day while entertaining.
  • Make fitness a family affair. Instead of watching a movie or television show, Petty suggests going for a family bike ride or walk, or doing laps around the mall when shopping. If it's too cold outside, try a Zumba class or free fitness video on YouTube.
  • HIIT it hard. HIIT stands for high intensity interval training and is a great way to rev your metabolism and blast calories in a short amount of time.
    • Strength training HIIT circuits: Pick five to seven bodyweight exercises (squats, lunges, pushups, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, crunches, etc.). Warm up with five minutes of light cardio. Perform each move for 60 to 90 seconds or until you can no longer perform the exercise with correct form. Quickly go to the next move with little to no rest in between sets. Once you finish the set of exercises, repeat the circuit again until you have exercised for at least 30 minutes. Rest as needed. Your heart rate will stay up and you'll tone your muscles.  Stretch afterward. For more, try these five festive exercises you can do anywhere
    • Cardio HIIT: Warm up with a five-minute walk, then alternate between one minute of jogging and two minutes of walking. As you get fitter, increase the running portion to two-minute intervals. Cool down with a five-minute walk. Stretch. You can follow this method with any type of cardio, including biking, swimming, aerobics, etc.

Even if you have only five to 10 minutes for exercise, "every little bit counts," says Petty. While he recommends 30 minutes most days of the week, just 15 minutes of exercise can help you torch through more calories during the rest of your day, decrease stress and increase energy.

For more fitness tips, click here.  

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