Research from the University of Adelaide suggests suddenly abandoning your workout may not be the best decision for your mental health. Exercise cessation can take as little as 3 days to increase symptoms of depression, according to a review to be featured in the July 2018 issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders.
“Adequate physical activity and exercise are important for both physical and mental health,” says author Julie Morgan, a Ph.D. student from the Discipline of Psychiatry at the University of Adelaide. “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.”
A survey from 2017 revealed that many patients with depression and anxiety were seeking to use physical exercise to relieve their conditions. Among 300 respondents, nearly 85% wanted their doctors’ help to adopt a more physically active lifestyle to improve their mental health.
Previously, research suggested regular exercise can positively impact mental health by decreasing depressive symptoms, reducing stress, inducing a good mood, and improving learning abilities.
While many such studies show working out can help treat depression, Morgan explains not many have explored the impact exercise cessation can have on depressive symptoms. She, along with colleagues, conducted a review of studies examining 152 adults who stopped exercising after performing at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times a week, for a minimum of three months.
Findings showed some cases where the cessation led to a notable increase in depressive symptoms after just 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 Professor Bernhard Baune, senior author and Head of Psychiatry at the University of Adelaide.
The symptoms worsened even in the absence of biological markers commonly involved with depressive symptoms. Results also showed women were more likely than men to experience depressive symptoms after stopping exercise.
“Quality concerns including risks of attrition and reporting bias limit our confidence in these results,” the study stated regarding limitations. The researchers also caution that the findings did not imply that exercise cessation caused depressive symptoms, but only showed an association. They added that the results require confirmation in a higher-quality trial featuring healthy adults and patients with major depressive disorder (MDD).
“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,” Professor Baune says. “For now, it is important that people understand the potential impact on their mental well-being when they suddenly cease regular exercise.”