Mental health consequences of exercise withdrawal: A systematic review

Ali A. Weinstein*, Christine Koehmstedt, W.J. Kop

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


A sedentary lifestyle has been associated with mental health disorders. Many medical conditions result in the cessation of exercise, which may increase the risk of developing mental health problems. The purpose of this article is to systematically review the literature examining the effects of exercise withdrawal on mental health.

Literature was searched using PubMed, PsycINFO, and SPORTdiscus for studies that experimentally manipulated the withdrawal of exercise and included mental health as outcome measure.

A total of 19 studies met inclusion criteria (total N = 689 with 385 individuals participating in an exercise withdrawal condition). Exercise withdrawal consistently resulted in increases in depressive symptoms and anxiety. Other mental health outcomes were investigated infrequently. Severe mental health issues requiring clinical intervention after experimentally controlled exercise withdrawal was rare. Heterogeneity in methods and outcomes was observed, especially in terms of the duration of exercise withdrawal (range 1 to 42 days, median = 7 days), with stronger effects if exercise withdrawal exceeded 2 weeks.

Experimentally controlled exercise withdrawal has adverse consequences for mental health. These observations in healthy individuals may help to understand the onset of mental health problems in response to acute and chronic medical conditions associated with reduced physical activity. Future research is needed to investigate potential mechanisms explaining the adverse mental health consequences of cessation of exercise that will provide new targets for clinical interventions
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-18
JournalGeneral Hospital Psychiatry: Psychiatry, Medicine and Primary Care
Publication statusPublished - 2017


Dive into the research topics of 'Mental health consequences of exercise withdrawal: A systematic review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this