Node Smith, ND

A new research study on mental health from the University of Adelaide concludes that cessation of exercise can actually result in an increase of depressive symptoms.1 This supports the well documented finding that exercise is actually one of the most consistently beneficial treatments for mild to moderate depression. The study reviewed many earlier studies that analyzed the effects of discontinuing exercise in active adults.

There is no disagreement that exercise is good for health markers, especially depression

The lead author, Julie Morgan, a PhD student from the University of Adelaide, comments that there is “an extensive body of clinical research show[ing] that regular exercise can reduce and treat depression. However, there is limited research into what happens with depressive symptoms when exercise is stopped.” Current guidelines recommend at least an hour and a half of moderate intensity exercise a week to maintain health and prevent depression. These numbers vary to a certain extent, with vigorous intensity, exercise of about 1 hour a week being advocated for additional health benefits by some guidelines, and the type of exercise – aerobic or strength building – is often argued. However, there is no disagreement that exercise is good for health markers, especially depression.

Study reviewed the discontinuation of exercise in 152 adults

Morgan’s study reviewed the discontinuation of exercise in 152 adults. All individuals had previously been exercising 3 times a week for a minimum of 3 months – at least 30 minutes at each session. The review found that in some cases, depressive symptoms increased after just 3 days. Other studies found that symptoms increased after 1 or 2 weeks. The increases in depressive symptoms were also noted to occur without typical biological markers commonly presenting with depressive symptoms.

It’s important to note the impact that exercise, and sudden cessation of it, can have on mental health

The authors on the paper acknowledge that the sample size of the study was small, however the results compelling. It is important that people understand the impact that exercise, and suddenly ceasing exercise could potentially have on mental health.


  1. Morgan JA, Olagunju AT, Corrigan F, et al. Does ceasing exercise induce depressive symptoms? A systematic review of experimental trials including immunological and neurogenic markers. J Affect Disord. 2018 Feb 24;234:180-192. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.02.058.
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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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