Stopping Exercise Can Increase Depressive Symptoms, Study Says

Science has already established the importance of introducing regular exercise to help prevent and manage mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. But new research out of the University of Adelaide has shed light on the mental health impacts of stopping a regular workout routine.

In a review of relevant studies, researchers analysed the impact of pausing a regular workout routine in active adults who exercised at least 30 minutes, three times a week for three months. The findings showed that breaking from an exercise routine can result in increased symptoms of depression and in some cases, three days without exercise was enough to make an impact.

“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 Bernhard Baune, senior author on the paper and head of psychiatry at the University of Adelaide, told The Advertiser.

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

According to the Black Dog Institute, there’s extensive evidence showing that people who exercise regularly experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who don’t. For example in one study, 16 weeks of regular exercise was found to be as effective as antidepressant medication when treating mild to moderate depression. Another recent study showed that upping physical activity from nothing to three weekly workouts resulted in a 20 percent decrease of the risk of depression over a five year period.

So while further research is required to replicate the specific findings out of the University of Adelaide study, it’s clearer than ever that the link between exercise and mental health is an important one.

If you are worried about yourself or someone in your care, the best thing you can do is talk to someone. Please contact:

  • beyondblue Support Service (24 hours 7 days a week) 1300 22 4636 
  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 
  • SANE Australia Helpline 1800 18 SANE (7263)

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