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An analysis in the Journal of Affective Disorders suggests that going three days without exercise is linked with an increase in depressive symptoms.
It’s possible that someone who works out regularly would experience a dip in mood after taking a few days off, says Faye Didymus, Ph.D., a sports psychologist at Leeds Beckett University in the UK who was not involved in the study.
Although no definitive conclusions can be drawn from these preliminary findings, it does make sense: Separate research shows regular exercise can act as an antidepressant by causing a release of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. “People who work out daily may become used to increased levels of these chemicals,” she says. So if you’re sidelined by a busy week at work or you’re nursing an injury, your brain may miss those feel-good neurotransmitters. After three days, the deficiency could catch up to you and your mood could suffer as a result.
If you need a natural upper on rest days, Didymus suggests taking a walk in the morning or during lunch, preferably in a park. The light exercise will raise your heart rate and the green space will boost your mood, she says.