We are all aware that physical activity, often in the form of structured exercise, helps to improve physical and mental health. New research now finds that stopping exercise may result in increased depressive symptoms.
University of Adelaide researchers performed an analysis of prior studies that examined the effects of stopping exercise in regularly active adults. Ph.D. student Julie Morgan discovered that exercise cessation may lead to detrimental mental health effects in the form of depression.
The results of her review appear online ahead of print in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
“Adequate physical activity and exercise are important for both physical and mental health,” says Ms. Morgan.
“Current public health guidelines recommend being active on most if not all days of the week. At least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week is recommended to maintain health and prevent depression, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise for added health benefits.
“An extensive body of clinical evidence shows that regular exercise can reduce and treat depression. However, there is limited research into what happens with depressive symptoms when exercise is stopped,” she says.
Ms. Morgan reviewed studies that investigated the cessation of exercise in 152 adults. They had each undertaken at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times a week, for a minimum of three months.
“In some cases, ceasing this amount of exercise induced significant increases in depressive symptoms after just three days,” says Professor Bernhard Baune, Head of Psychiatry at the University of Adelaide and senior author on the paper.
“Other studies showed that people’s depressive symptoms increased after the first one or two weeks, which is still quite soon after stopping their exercise.”
Professor Baune says the depressive symptoms arising from stopping exercise occurred in the absence of the typical biological markers commonly involved with depressive symptoms.
“This suggests some kind of novel effect in these cases, although we should add some caution here, as the number of people included in the studies we examined was small. Such findings would need to be replicated in additional trials,” he says.
Professor Baune says the lack of research in this specific area points to the need for further studies, to help better understand the way in which stopping exercise affects depressive symptoms.
“For now, it is important that people understand the potential impact on their mental well-being when they suddenly cease regular exercise,” he says.