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Study Finds Lower Risk of Depression and Heart Disease in Highly Fit Adults

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Study Finds Lower Risk of Depression and Heart Disease in Highly Fit Adults. Approximately 16 million U.S. adults, or 6.7 percent of the population, has experienced at least one major depressive episode, according to National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The widespread predominance of this incapacitating mental disorder has lead researchers to look for alternative ways to treat this condition, especially for people who have treatment-resistant depression and do not respond to traditional depression treatments (i.e., antidepressants and psychotherapy).

Medication, Exercise or Both?

Although a combination of antidepressant medications and talk therapy are effective for most people who have depressive disorders, new research suggests that exercise or any type of physical activity may be just as beneficial for protecting people against depression and helping them recover from the disorder.

In a study published in the Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, James Blumenthal, a neuroscientist at Duke University, and his colleagues investigated exercise treatment for major depression. They randomly assigned 156 adults with MDD to one of three treatment groups: the exercise only group, medication only or exercise and medication. After six months of treatment, the researchers found that the participants who were in the Exercise Group were less likely to relapse and more likely to be partially or fully recovered.

New Study Emphasizes on Fitness Routine in Adult Population

For years, exercise has been recognized for its benefits on both the body and mind. Higher levels of fitness among middle-aged people reduced their risk of dying from heart disease after being diagnosed with depression, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. The study highlighted the multiple ways depression can impact mortality and health. According to the researchers, staying active is always beneficial, especially for preventing against depressive symptoms and subsequently lowering the risk of heart disease.

To carry out the study, the researchers utilized data from the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, which collected cardiorespiratory fitness levels from men and women in midlife; participants had an average age of 50 years. The researchers found that individuals with high fitness levels were 56 percent less likely to die from heart disease subsequent to a depression diagnosis compared to the participants who were not active at all.

The study highlighted the importance of exercise for patients already struggling with depression and identified different ways to cope with hopelessness, while still finding the inspiration to engage in physical activity. Madhukar H. Trivedi, M.D., a co-author of the study and director of the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care at UT Southwestern said, “Maintaining a healthy dose of exercise is difficult, but it can be done. It just requires more effort and addressing unique barriers to regular exercise.”

Why Does Exercise Help With Depression?
Exercise has numerous physical and mental health benefits. Not only does exercise increase blood flow to the brain, it also triggers the release of neurotransmitters including serotonin and endorphins, which can boost mood, and brain-dervied neurotrophic factor, which promotes memory and the health of the brain.

Exercise improves inflammation in the body that can otherwise lead to depression and cardiovascular disorders. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also report that a regular dose of physical activity helps to:

  • Control obesity
  • Strengthen muscles
  • Improve sleep
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce the risk of diabetes, type 2
  • Prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer

It is recommended by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans that children ages 6 to 17 years engage in an hour of physical activity on a daily basis and a minimum 30 minutes per day for adults aged 18 to 64 years. It is important to understand that exercise and physical activity do not just confine to weight-lifting or running but may include physical activities such as home cleaning, gardening, playing with kids or even washing the car. The core of exercise is to include body movements.
Treatment for depression

For those who are experiencing depressive symptoms, it is important to seek treatment from a qualified mental health professional if they start to interfere with your ability to function in daily life. Depression treatment must be customized to each client’s specific needs to promote healing of the body and mind.

Recognizing the symptoms of depression early as well as taking suitable preventative measures can be a remarkable way for people to overcome depression. Recent evidence has shed some light on potential alternatives to antidepressants, talk therapy and other evidence-based treatments of depression in the case that they experience treatment-resistant depression. Alternatives to traditional depression treatments may also be helpful for preventing depression symptoms from starting or getting worse.

It is important to recognize that exercise can complement traditional treatments as well that there are many evidence-based psychological therapies, including talk therapies like psychodynamic therapy, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which are effective treatments for depression. People who make positive behavioral and lifestyle modifications, including exercising and eating healthy, are also better equipped to conquer stress, depression and other mental health issues.

At AKUA Mind & Body, our clinical team understands that treating mental health issues at the same time as any underlying or co-occurring substance use disorders can help clients recover from depressive disorders. If you or someone you know is dealing with depression, anxiety or any mental health issue, you can contact us on our 24/7 Admissions Helpline for a free, confidential assessment.


  • https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml
  • https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2686049
  • https://www.hhs.gov/
  • https://health.gov/paguidelines/default.aspx

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