Newswise — BINGHAMTON, N.Y. – Women feel less stressed on weekends, when there is more downtime, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Lina Begdache, assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University, researches the different determinants of mental distress. In a recent study, her team investigated the role of diet quality, time of the week and physical fitness on the stress hormone cortisol and how they relate to mood (short-term changes in mental status) and mental distress (typically longer-term mental distress). A total of 336 records from 48 college students were analyzed. Students recorded their dietary intake for three days, and completed two different mood questionnaires on a Wednesday (a peak weekday) and a Saturday (a downtime day). 

Researchers found that during a peak weekday, individuals who experience a negative affect are more likely to experience mental distress, but the likelihood of these emotions remaining high subsides during downtime (e.g. weekends). This suggests that those experiencing high levels of mental distress need to consider taking a break.

“This is important because it is known that women have twice the risk of mental distress such as anxiety and depression when compared to men,” said Begdache. “Women tend to juggle several responsibilities and multitask because their brain is wired to do so, but obviously, this adds to their mental distress. Therefore, knowing that taking frequent breaks may improve their mental well-being may ward off the need to resort to medications.”

Begdache said that planning some downtime might help women better manage their stress.

“I know myself, as a woman who juggles many responsibilities, that it is sometimes easier said than done, but by making a conscious effort to experience some downtime, many times we could be successful,” said Begdache. “Delegation of tasks or building priorities sometimes helps.”

The researchers also found that physically fit individuals are more likely to relax faster, so including some physical activity in their daily routine could add to their mental improvement. 

Begdache and her team have another manuscript under review looking at the impact of exercise frequency on mental health during weekdays and weekends and comparing it to the different stages of COVID-19: before, during the pandemic and after the ease of restrictions.

Also contributing to this research were Saloumeh Sadeghzadeh, assistant professor in the School of Management; graduate student Paul Pearlmutter; undergraduate students Gia Derose and Pragna Krishnamurthy; and Ahyeon Koh, assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

The paper, “Dietary Factors, Time of the Week, Physical Fitness and Saliva Cortisol: Their Modulatory Effect on Mental Distress and Mood,” was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

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