Exercise Helps Alleviate Effects of Depression on Heart Health


DepressionAlmost 50 percent of American adults have a key risk factor for heart disease, such as high cholesterol. More than 5 percent of the adults in the country suffer from depression. Unfortunately, those who fall into the latter category are more likely to fall into the former one. Depressed people are twice or three times more likely to develop heart issues than others, but a new study finds that regular exercise can help alleviate the effects of a depressed mental state on cardiovascular health.

Depression has long been linked to heart disease and outcomes for patients with heart disease and other conditions. Approximately 20 percent of those who have a heart attack tend to suffer from depression. But, many assume that the heart disease leads to the unhappiness instead of the reverse. However, even mild depression has been linked with early indicators of heart disease, according to an item about a study conducted by researchers from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta published in the Jan. 11, 2016, issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The research team sought to learn more about the relationship between depression and heart disease. They studied 965 adults who had no indications of heart disease and had never been diagnosed with a mental health condition, such as an affective or anxiety disorder. The average age of participants was 49 years. Approximately one-third were male, and 39 percent were black.

Using questionnaires, they queried participants about depressive tendencies and their physical activeness. The people were then evaluated for any indicators of early heart disease. The research team found a tendency toward arterial stiffening and other heart disease indicators in the people who were least active. Those same indicators were not as common in those who regularly participated in physical activities. Depressed people who regularly exercised had less aortic stiffening and inflammation.

The findings illustrate that there is a the link between cardiovascular risks and depression, and they “support routinely assessing depression in patients to determine heart disease risk,” according to Dr. Arshed Quyyumi, co-director of the Emory Clinical Cardiovascular Research Institute who was the study’s author. He also noted that the research shows “the positive effects of exercise for all patients, including those with depressive symptoms. There are many patients with heart disease who also experience depression — we need to study whether encouraging them to exercise will reduce their risk of adverse outcomes.”

There have been numerous studies on mental health and heart disease. One belief is that depression affects the cardiovascular system by reducing people’s desire to take care of themselves, work out regularly and eat healthy foods. Furthermore, people who are depressed may overeat or eat too little, either avoid medications or overindulge in self-medicating substances. Other studies have suggested that a depressed mental state can cause changes in hormone levels that may trigger heart rhythm abnormalities, and have tied depression to sticky platelets, which may lead to hardening of the arteries.

The study was not designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship between depression and heart disease. It merely shows that exercise may help alleviate the effects of depression; it is already commonly knowledge that it can help keep a heart healthy.

Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss

American College Of Cardiology: Exercise reduces heart disease risk in depressed patients
Philly.com: Exercise May Lower Heart Disease Risk in Depressed People: Study
Medical Daily: Exercise Reverses Depression’s Negative Effects On Heart Health
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Heart Disease Facts and Statistics

Photo courtesy of Mike Baird’s Flickr page – Creative Commons license