The effects of exercise withdrawal on mood and inflammatory cytokine responses in humans

Lydia Poole, Mark Hamer, Andrew J. Wawrzyniak, Andrew Steptoe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Mechanisms underlying the relationship between exercise and mood are not well understood. This study sought to investigate the role of pro-and anti-inflammatory cytokines and autonomic balance in determining the impact of exercise withdrawal on negative mood. Healthy men and women who regularly exercised (N=26, mean age=25.5 years, SD=4.5 years) were randomised to exercise withdrawal or exercise maintenance for 2 weeks. Protocol adherence was monitored using accelerometers. Inflammatory markers from plasma (interleukin-6, IL-6; tumour necrosis factor-alpha; interleukin-10; and interleukin-1 receptor antagonist), heart-rate variability (HRV) and measures of mood (General Health Questionnaire-28 (GHQ) and the Profile of Mood States (POMS)) were assessed at study entry and at 2-week follow-up. Exercise withdrawal resulted in significant increases in negative mood over time on both the GHQ (p=0.028) and the POMS (p=0.005). Following the intervention, IL-6 concentration was lower in the exercise withdrawal than exercise maintenance condition (p=0.05). No intervention effects were observed for other cytokines or HRV. The mood changes were significantly related to changes in IL-6 concentration (β=-0.50, p=0.011), indicating that reduction in IL-6 was related to increased negative mood. Our results are consistent with positive effects of exercise on mental health, but further research on inflammatory pathways is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)439-447
Number of pages9
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • anti-inflammatory cytokines
  • Exercise
  • heart-rate variability
  • interleukin-6
  • mood
  • tumour necrosis factor-alpha

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Physiology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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