People with depression, anxiety may benefit most from exercise

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“The effect of physical activity on the brain’s stress response may be particularly relevant in those with stress-related psychiatric conditions.”

Story at a glance

  • Researchers analyzed the health records of more than 50,000 patients, around 4,000 of whom suffered a significant heart-related event
  • They assessed through a questionnaire the rate of coronary events in people who said they met the weekly recommended exercise.
  • People with anxiety and depression who met weekly exercise recommendations were 22 percent less likely to suffer a major heart-related episode compared to 10 percent of patients without either condition.

People with depression and anxiety experienced nearly double the cardiovascular benefits of exercise than those without either diagnosis, according to a new study.  

Researchers analyzed the health records of more than 50,000 patients in the Massachusetts General Brigham Biobank database, around 4,000 of whom suffered a significant heart-related event, like a heart attack. They assessed through a questionnaire the rate of coronary events in people who said they met the weekly recommended exercise.  

Patients who reported meeting exercise recommendations were 17 percent less likely to experience a major cardiac event. There was an even sharper contrast between people experiencing anxiety and depression and those who do not. They were 22 percent less likely to suffer a major heart-related episode compared to 10 percent of patients without either condition.  

“The effect of physical activity on the brain’s stress response may be particularly relevant in those with stress-related psychiatric conditions,” the study’s lead author and postdoctoral clinical research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, Hadil Zureigat said in a news release.  

“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,” Zureigat added.  

The World Health Organization said earlier in March the prevalence of depression and anxiety increased by 25 percent globally in the first year of the pandemic.

The team noted that although the analysis only included people who met the weekly exercise standard of 150 minutes of moderate exercise, any amount can mitigate some cardiovascular risk for those suffering from depression and 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.” 

The study will be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 71st Annual Scientific Session. 

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