University of Vermont

College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Psychological Science

Micro-Philanthropy Initiative for Research Funding

Cognitive Vulnerability to Mood Disturbance in an Exercise Cessation Paradigm

The Micro-Philanthropy Initiative for Research Funding is a collaboration between the Psychology Department and The UVM Foundation seeking out funding for promising graduate-level research. By donating to Maggie Evans' research proposal you make possible this low-cost project that could bring valuable returns in our understanding of the development of anxiety and depressive symptoms when individuals have to stop their exercise routine.

If, in addition to your donation you would like to see the results of her research just send an email to

Maggie Evans  
Advisor: Dr. Kelly Rohan  
Select "Other" and type in "Psychology Micro-Entrepreneurial Fund"

Maggie Evans
Maggie Evans
Depression affects about 1 in 5 people worldwide. It is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses and has been indicated as a major disability problem. There is a link between physical activity and symptoms of depression as depressive symptoms are more common among people who do not exercise compared to individuals who do. Research has shown that physical inactivity may be a risk factor for developing depressive symptoms, making this an important area of research.

One way to study this relationship is to examine the effects of stopping one’s exercise routine, known as “exercise cessation,” on mental health. Prior research studies have used both experimental designs, in which individuals were asked to refrain from exercise for anywhere between 3 and 14 days at a time to determine any changes in mood, and observational studies, in which individuals were followed for a period of time and asked to rate their mood on days when they did and did not exercise. These studies indicate that exercise cessation and no-exercise days are associated with an increase in negative mood. The results from the exercise cessation experiments indicate that depression, anxiety, fatigue, and pain symptoms increase during exercise cessation, implying that lack of exercise contributes to the development of these symptoms.

To assist in carrying out my doctoral dissertation research project on this topic, I am seeking funding in conjunction with the University of Vermont Foundation (UVMF). My study hopes to examine this relationship between the cessation of exercise and mental health even further. More specifically, I am utilizing a vulnerability-stress model to determine why mood gets worse when people stop exercising and who is at most risk for these effects, questions that are currently unanswered. In order to do this, I am conducting an exercise cessation study asking physically active individuals to stop exercising for two weeks. Mood symptoms during that period of time will be compared to two weeks when they were exercising per their regular routine. The novel part of this study is the incorporation of different psychological and exercise variables to determine how they relate to mental health functioning when individuals stop exercising. These variables include baseline physical activity level, coping with stress, and thinking styles. These constructs will hopefully shed light on the processes through which mood worsens during exercise cessation and who is most likely to experience mood changes upon exercise cessation, which has important implications for mental health prevention efforts.

This research will contribute to the understanding of factors that impact the development of mental health problems when individuals stop exercising. This study has significant clinical implications, as knowledge gained will help to identify individuals who may be at risk for mood symptoms when they have to undergo a significant decrease in activity or cessation of their exercise routine. Given both the high prevalence of depression and the high likelihood of experiencing a transitional period involving change in physical activity level over the course of one’s lifetime (e.g., developmental transitions, injury, medical conditions, pregnancy, and lifestyle changes), such work will ultimately inform prevention efforts to reduce the onset and recurrence of depression, as well as influence patient assessment and treatment of depression and anxiety.

Last modified March 19 2014 01:57 PM

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