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The effect of experimentally induced sedentariness on mood and psychobiological responses to mental stress

  • Romano Endrighi (a1), Andrew Steptoe (a2) and Mark Hamer (a3)



Evidence suggests a link between sedentary behaviours and depressive symptoms. Mechanisms underlying this relationship are not understood, but inflammatory processes may be involved. Autonomic and inflammatory responses to stress may be heightened in sedentary individuals contributing to risk, but no study has experimentally investigated this.


To examine the effect of sedentary time on mood and stress responses using an experimental design.


Forty-three individuals were assigned to a free-living sedentary condition and to a control condition (usual activity) in a cross-over, randomised fashion and were tested in a psychophysiology laboratory after spending 2 weeks in each condition. Participants completed mood questionnaires (General Health Questionnaire and Profile of Mood States) and wore a motion sensor for 4 weeks.


Sedentary time increased by an average of 32 min/day (P = 0.01) during the experimental condition compared with control. Being sedentary resulted in increases in negative mood independent of changes in moderate to vigorous physical activity (δGHQ= 6.23, δPOMS= 2.80). Mood disturbances were associated with greater stress-induced inflammatory interleukin-6 (IL-6) responses (β = 0.37).


Two weeks of exposure to greater free-living sedentary time resulted in mood disturbances independent of reduction in physical activity. Stress-induced IL-6 responses were associated with changes in mood.

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This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence.

Corresponding author

Romano Endrighi, PhD, USUHS, Bldg. 28 Rm. 113, 4301 Jones Bridge Rd., Bethesda, MD 20814, USA. Email address:


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This research was supported by the British Heart Foundation. The funder had no role in the study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Declaration of interest




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The effect of experimentally induced sedentariness on mood and psychobiological responses to mental stress

  • Romano Endrighi (a1), Andrew Steptoe (a2) and Mark Hamer (a3)


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The effect of experimentally induced sedentariness on mood and psychobiological responses to mental stress

  • Romano Endrighi (a1), Andrew Steptoe (a2) and Mark Hamer (a3)
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Prevention vs cure: the role of physical activity in depressive symptoms

Rachel A Cichosz, Medical Student, Cardiff University
29 August 2015

There is evidence that depression is linked to many lifestyle factors, including activity levels (Sarris et al, 2014). Modern life tends to mean that people are more sedentary (Hidaka, 2012) and this has correlated with an increase in the prevalence of depression (Sarris et al, 2014). Endrighi et al (2015) have looked at the effect of physical activity on depressive symptoms in a different way to most- instead of looking at the link between increased exercise and a reduction in symptoms, they sought to examine the effect of physical inactivity on mood and wellbeing and their experimental design enabled them to infer causality between the two variables (previous findings have been from epidemiological studies, with the potential for unmeasured confounding variables). In other words, they have looked at prevention of depression rather than cure. This is a novel way of looking at depression as it paves the way for reducing symptom burden within the population. Endrighi et al (2015) went one step further than others and also found a link between the IL-6 pro-inflammatory response and negative mood in order to help explain this link.

Most other studies into physical activity in depression have looked at easing symptoms in those who are already experiencing depression (Stanton and Reaburn 2014 and Mota-Pereira et al, 2011). While this is an important modifiable lifestyle factor and may help those already suffering, I ask the questions- is prevention better than cure? Can physical activity reduce the burden of depression on both society and individuals? According to Sarris et al (2014), increase in physical activity could be a low cost intervention and has a strong evidence base for improving mood, both through formal exercise and general increases in activity. However, further research should be conducted into how we can best get this message out to the general public and encourage in more active lifestyles, particularly in those groups at high risk of depression.


Endrighi. R., Steptoe. A. and Hamer. M. 2015. The effect of experimentally induced sedentariness on mood and psychobiological responses to mental stress. The British Journal of Psychiatry. Published Online 20/08/2015.

Hidaka. B. 2012. Depression as a Disease of Modernity: Explanations for Increasing Prevalence. Journal of Affective Disorders. 140(3):205-214.

Sarris. J., O’Neil. A., Coulson. C., Schweitzer. I. and Berk. M. 2014. Lifestyle Medicine for Depression. BMC Psychiatry. 14:107.

Mota-Pereira. J., Silverio. J., Carvalho. S., Ribeiro. J., Fonte. D. and Ramos. J. 2011. Moderate Exercise Improves Depression Parameters in Treatment- Resistant Patients with Major Depressive Disorders. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 45:1005-1011.

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