Though you can’t feel it happening, there’s a lot of automatic processes going on in our body every single day. You may not see any change, but on a cellular level, the body you have today is not the same body you had a week ago. Your cells are constantly dying and being recreated. The amount of activity you include in your lifestyle has a significant impact on this process.

One big example of this can be found in the way your muscles react to not being used. It probably does not come as a surprise that muscle gets smaller if not consistently worked on. This is called atrophy.

What happens when muscles atrophy?

The muscles in your body are always either gaining mass (hypertrophy) or losing mass (atrophy) based on the level of activity you are devoting to them. Muscle atrophy is the loss of muscle tissue after periods of inactivity. If a muscle goes unused, your body starts to break it down to conserve energy. One of the main muscle atrophy symptoms is noticeably smaller muscles, like one arm being smaller than the other.

So how long does it take for muscle atrophy to occur? Significant muscle atrophy typically takes about four to six weeks, but it varies depending on the person. Typically, muscles first begin to atrophy after about three days of disuse. This is why most personal trainers will not have more than three days of rest in the workout plans they create for clients. If you want to build muscle, it’s important to consistently exercise them so that your previous workouts aren’t wasted.

The more muscle you have, the faster the rate of atrophy. Athletes, for example, experience quicker rates of muscle shrinkage than others. Sometimes, muscle atrophy is unavoidable, like if you experienced an injury that requires resting certain muscles in order for healing to take place.

You may wonder, why do legs get weaker with age? As you get older, it becomes more difficult for your body to produce the proteins required for building muscle. This causes muscles to shrink, and the muscle deterioration process to accelerate.

How to minimize atrophy

While atrophy has several natural causes, like age, the main reasons that muscles atrophy is typically due to poor diet and exercise. If you’re not getting the proper nutrients needed to maintain or gain muscle mass, your muscles will have what they need to grow. If they are not being worked, they will not grow.

Therefore, one of the main steps you can take to minimize atrophy is to have a nutritional diet and stick to a consistent workout routine. Fortunately, there are countless muscle atrophy exercises out there, and many can be done at home. Many people hire personal trainers that can help keep track of your activity levels and recommend what steps might be taken to minimize atrophy. Age related muscle atrophy may be somewhat unavoidable, but consistent exercise in your younger years will create a better foundation and your body will thank you when you’re older.

If you’ve had surgery and are worried about the recovery process, a physical therapist will have many useful ways to help you prevent muscle atrophy after surgery.

One of the first questions people have when learning about this topic is can muscle atrophy be reversed? The good news is yes, most times it can. However, work must be put into it, and the results aren’t immediate. Muscle atrophy recovery, if taken seriously, can take a few months. Regaining muscle mass after atrophy is a very attainable goal and you will begin to feel a difference in how your muscles feel after just a few weeks.

If you’re wondering how to prevent muscle atrophy, it’s basically the same answer as how to recover. Regular exercise, exercise, exercise. Healthy diet, diet, diet.


Muscle atrophy is not life-threatening nor is it something you probably even notice happening at first. However, for a myriad of reasons, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle through proper diet and regular exercise. Exercises for muscle atrophy can be found on the internet, but it’s probably better to get a physical therapist or personal trainer to guide your recovery process.

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