Stopping Exercise Increases Depression Symptoms, Study Finds

ADELAIDE, Australia — Quitting an exercise routine can cause a spike in symptoms of depression, a new scientific review of evidence concluded.

While many people turn to regular physical fitness as a way to curb mental health conditions, researchers from the University of Adelaide found that people reported feeling down within a matter of days after hitting the brakes on their regimen.

Man lying on floor at gym
While many people turn to regular physical fitness as a way to curb mental health conditions, researchers from the University of Adelaide found that people reported feeling depression symptoms within a matter of days after hitting the brakes on their regimen.

“Adequate physical activity and exercise are important for both physical and mental health,” says Julie Morgan, researcher and PhD student at the university, in a release. “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.”

Morgan and her team reviewed data taken after 152 adults stopped exercising regularly during several studies. The participants had been exercising for 30 minutes a day, three days a week for a minimum of three months before calling it quits. The authors discovered that in some cases, the sudden lack of exercise caused increased bouts of depressive symptoms in subjects after only three days.

“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,” says senior author Professor Bernhard Baune, who is also the Head of Psychiatry at the university.

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The researcher noted that the depression symptoms cropped up even with participants who lacked the biological markers associated with depression. Still, Baune cautions that because the sample of participants wasn’t very large, and that it would be prudent for further research to try and replicate their results.

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

Previous studies have shown the benefits of exercise to treating depression, but until now, very little has been studied on the effects of lack of exercise to depression symptoms.

The full study is published in the July 2018 edition of The Journal of Active Disorders.

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