April 03, 2018
2 min read

Ceasing exercise can increase depressive symptoms

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Stopping regular exercise can lead to increased depressive symptoms in healthy adults, particularly in females, according to findings published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Adequate physical activity and exercise are important for both physical and mental health. At least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week is recommended to maintain health and prevent depression,” Julie Morgan, BPhy, PhD student in the discipline of psychiatry at University of Adelaide Medical School in Australia, said in a press release. “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.”

Researchers conducted a systematic review of clinical databases to examine six studies — including two randomized controlled trials — that investigated the effects of stopping aerobic exercise on depressive symptoms in adults who were regularly active. The included studies examined the cessation of exercise in 152 healthy adults who undertook at least 30 minutes of exercise three times a week for 3 months, according to the press release. Morgan and colleagues assessed blood-based markers related to stopping exercise.

The analysis included six studies — two of which were randomized controlled trials and three of which investigated neurogenic and immune biological markers linked to depressive symptoms. Compared to baseline, healthy patients who stopped their regular exercise had higher depressive symptoms when measured 3 days after cessation as well as after 1 week and after 2 weeks. Notably, females had significantly more depressive symptoms than males following exercise cessation.

Although there were no evident changes in brain-derived neurotrophic factor or tumor necrosis factor alpha, there were reductions in C-reactive protein at week 1 and interleukin 6 (IL-6) at week 2. In addition, when examining the connections between depressive symptoms and biomarkers, Morgan and colleagues observed a significant link between total mood change scores and reductions in IL-6 and between total change in mood and gender.

“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,” Bernhard Baune, MD, PhD, MPH, FRANZCP, head of psychiatry, University of Adelaide, said in the release. “Such findings would need to be replicated in additional trials. For now, it is important that people understand the potential impact on their mental well-being when they suddenly cease regular exercise.” – by Savannah Demko

Disclosures: This research was supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award and Research Training Scholarship from the Australian Government.