Low Fitness Linked to Higher Depression and Anxiety Risk

Dawn O'Shea

November 18, 2020

People with low aerobic and muscular fitness are nearly twice as likely to experience depression, finds a new study led by researchers at University College London (UCL).

The research, published in BMC Medicine, used data for 152,978 participants aged 40-69 years from the UK Biobank study. Baseline aerobic fitness at the start of the study period was tested by using a stationary bike with increasing resistance, whereas muscular fitness was measured with a grip strength test. They also completed a questionnaire gauging depression and anxiety symptoms.

Seven years later, they were tested again for depression and anxiety symptoms, and the researchers found that high aerobic and muscular fitness at the start of the study was associated with better mental health seven years later.

People with the lowest combined aerobic and muscular fitness had 98 per cent higher odds of depression, 60 per cent higher odds of anxiety and 81 per cent higher odds of having either one of these, compared with those with high levels of overall fitness.

Commenting on the findings, senior author Dr Joseph Hayes from UCL Psychiatry and Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Our findings suggest that encouraging people to exercise more could have extensive public health benefits, improving not only our physical health but our mental health too. Improving fitness through a combination of cardio exercise and strength and resistance training appears to be more beneficial than just focusing on aerobic or muscular fitness."

Kandola AA, Osborn DPJ, Stubbs B, Choi KW, Hayes JF. Individual and combined associations between cardiorespiratory fitness and grip strength with common mental disorders: a prospective cohort study in the UK Biobank. BMC Med. 2020;18(1):303. doi: 10.1186/s12916-020-01782-9. PMID: 33172457 View full text

This article originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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