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Stopping Exercise May Spark Depressive Symptoms

March 29, 2018
exercise equipment

Stopping regular exercise can increase symptoms of depression in healthy adults—especially women, according to a systematic review published online in Early Intervention in Psychiatry.

“An extensive body of clinical evidence shows that regular exercise can reduce and treat depression,” said lead author Julie Morgan, a PhD student at the University of Adelaide in Australia. “However, there is limited research into what happens with depressive symptoms when exercise is stopped.”

The review included 6 studies involving 152 healthy adults. Participants in the studies had exercised at least 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week, for at least 3 months before ceasing exercise.

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Results revealed an increase in depressive symptoms 3 days, 1 week, and 2 weeks following exercise cessation. Women had significantly more depressive symptoms than men.

However, depressive symptoms linked with exercise cessation occurred in the absence of biological markers typically involved in depression, researchers found. No changes were evident in brain-derived neurotrophic factor or tumor necrosis factor alpha, and C-reactive protein after 1 week of exercise cessation and interleukin 6 after 2 weeks of exercise cessation were reduced.

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“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,” said senior author Bernhard Baune, MD, PhD, head of psychiatry at the University of Adelaide. “Such findings would need to be replicated in additional trials.”

“For now,” he added, “it is important that people understand the potential impact on their mental well-being when they suddenly cease regular exercise.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Morgan JA, Olagunju AT, Corrigan F, Baune BT. Does ceasing exercise induce depressive symptoms? A systematic review of experimental trials including immunological and neurogenic markers. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2018 February 24;[Epub ahead of print].

Stopping exercise can increase symptoms of depression [press release]. Adelaide, South Australia, Australia: University of Adelaide; March 22, 2018.

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