People with depression or anxiety are twice as likely to get health benefits from regular exercise

People with depression or anxiety are twice as likely to get health benefits from regular exercise, study finds

  • Massachusetts General Hospital scientists tracked exercise regimes of 50,000
  • Doing 150 minutes exercise a week cut risk of heart attack by 17% overall
  • But for those who had been diagnosed with depression or anxiety it was 22%
  • Scientists said any amount of exercise could improve heart health levels

People with depression or anxiety are twice as likely to get health benefits from regular exercise, a study suggests.

Researchers tracked the exercise regimes of more than 50,000 people in their late 50s, up to a third of which were diagnosed with the conditions.

Overall, those who did moderate exercise for 150 minutes a week were 17 per cent less likely to suffer a heart attack or blocked coronary artery within two years compared to people who exercised less often.

But people who were depressed or anxious reaped the biggest benefit, seeing a 22 per cent reduced risk compared to 10 per cent in those without either condition.

Depressed and anxious people can suffer from chronic inflammation due to the stress put on their body.

This can lead to a hardening of arteries, putting someone at greater risk of heart problems further down the line.

But scientists say exercise can help to relieve these symptoms by prompting the release of endorphins – the ‘feel good’ hormones – which can improve people’s mood and reduce inflammation.

Researchers tracked the exercise regimes of more than 50,000 people in their late 50s, a third of which were diagnosed with the conditions. (stock image)

Anxiety and depression are among the most common mental health problems in the UK, affecting about one in 12 people every week.

A total of 4.8million Britons are living with the conditions, estimates suggest, while in the US it is around 22million.

Chronic stress can raise the levels of the hormone cortisol in the blood, which can lead to a faster beating heart and high blood pressure – risk factors for heart disease.

What are the main risk factors for heart disease?

About 7.6million people are living with heart disease in the UK, while in the US more than 18.2million have the condition.

There are several factors that raise the risk of suffering heart disease.

These include:

  • Smoking;
  • Stress;
  • Alcohol;
  • High blood pressure;
  • High blood cholesterol;
  • Being physically inactive;
  • Being overweight or obese;
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of the disease;
  • Being male;
  • Being older.

Source: British Heart Foundation.

In the latest study – to be presented next week at the American College of Cardiology’s annual conference in Washington DC – scientists extracted data from 50,000 patients in the Mass General Brigham Biobank who had an average age of 59.

Of the participants, 4,000 – or eight per cent of the total – suffered a heart attack, chest pain caused by a blocked artery or undergone a procedure to open a blocked artery within two years.

Scientists first looked at patients who exercised for 150 minutes or more per week, which is the level recommended by the NHS.

They then sorted patients into groups – those who had a diagnosis for anxiety or depression and those who did not.

They found that people with the mental health conditions who did 150 minutes of exercise – which could include a brisk walk, cycle, hike or tennis – were 22 per cent less likely to suffer from one of the heart conditions than others with an anxiety or depression diagnosis who exercised less often.

This was more than double the benefit seen in people who did not have anxiety or depression.

Hadil Zureigat, a heart disease researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital who led the study, said: ‘The effect of physical activity on the brain’s stress response may be particularly relevant in those with stress-related psychiatric conditions.

‘This is not to suggest that exercise is only effective in those with depression or anxiety, but we found that these patients seem to derive a greater cardiovascular benefit from physical activity.’

She added: ‘Any amount of exercise is helpful, particularly for those with depression or anxiety.

‘Not only will physical activity help them feel better, but they will also potently reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.

‘It can be hard to make the transition, but once achieved, physical activity allows those with these common chronic stress-related psychiatric conditions to hit two birds with one stone.’

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