Living a couch potato life for just two weeks shows up in ways that spell bad news, according to University of Liverpool researchers. Higher fat levels, expanded waistlines, lower cardio-respiratory fitness and even muscle loss were seen in a group of healthy 36-year-olds who took part in a recent study. Participants were asked to give up physical activity for 14 days but continue to eat their usual diet.

Scientists concluded that long term indolence could lead eventually to serious conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes. A precursor to developing diabetes—the body’s reduced ability to respond to the hormone insulin—was evident in the study’s participants. Physical activity could be even more important for people who have an immediate family member with type 2 diabetes, the study suggests.

The effects of the two-week trial disappeared after participants returned to normal activities such as walking to work, using the stairs and going out to shop for groceries. During the study, they were asked to drive or take public transportation to work, take elevators or escalators instead of stairs, and devote their weekends to watching TV or playing computer games. Researchers asked participants to wear trackers on their arms so they could confirm the reduced activity levels.

“Even in two weeks, the transition from being a busy bee to a couch potato provoked subtle changes which over months or years would predispose people to certain diseases” said Dr. Daniel Cuthbertson, lead researcher. ‘While these small changes would not cause disease in their own right in two weeks, imagine this over a longer period of time where there may be a cumulative effect and perhaps an added effect of a poor diet.”

‘We’re always told to exercise and go to the gym but we’ve shown that these subtle changes also have quite an effect,” said Dr. Kelly Bowden Davies, who conducted the study. “People really underestimate how simple things like increasing their daily steps or changing the amount of time they spend sitting around can change their health.”

University of Liverpool researchers recommended five simple steps to counter the “couch potato effect.”

  1. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator wherever you can.
  2. Incorporate walking into your daily commute to work. Walk to work, park a distance away from the office so you have to walk in, or get off one stop early if you take the bus.
  3. Trick yourself into getting up from your desk regularly at work by moving the printer or water cooler away from your desk.
  4. Make the weekly trip to the supermarket instead of shopping online for groceries.
  5. Use the weekend to clean the house, shop or go for a walk instead of devoting the entire time to relaxing on the couch.

Read More: Five Simple Steps Can Reverse the Damage