Fitness Can Help Prevent Depression, Anxiety

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While there is some evidence that exercise can improve mental health, scientists are less aware of whether fitness can prevent the onset of mental health problems. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis takes a closer look.

Common mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, are a growing global problem.

They reduce overall well-being and life satisfaction, but they can also increase the risk of heart disease and increase risk of mortality.

While talk therapy and medication can help in many cases, they do not help everyone.

An issue as important as mental health needs an effective public health strategy; stopping mental health problems before they start would, of course, be ideal.

Researchers are working to unravel the a multitude of factors that increase the risk of developing mental health problems. While it is not possible to change some of these factors, such as genetics, it is possible to change some lifestyle factors, including diet and physical activity.

Scientists are keen to identify modifiable factors that could have the most significant impact on mental health. Some researchers are interested in physical form.

The authors of a recent study investigated whether cardiorespiratory training could be an effective intervention. Cardiorespiratory fitness is a measure of the ability of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to the body during exercise.

They recently published the results of their analysis in the Affective Disorders Journal.

The authors explain how previous studies “have found that low physical activity is associated with a higher incidence of common mental health disorders.” However, few studies have examined whether cardiorespiratory condition is directly related to mental health risk.

Medical News Today spoke with the study’s lead author, Aaron Kandola, from University College London in the UK. We asked him why so few studies have looked at this question.

One of the reasons, he said, is that cardiorespiratory fitness “can be expensive and impractical to measure, especially in large groups of people.” It explains how it should be “measured with structured stress tests that require the use of specialized equipment in a controlled environment”.

To investigate, researchers searched for studies examining how fitness interacts with mental health risk.

They only included articles that used a forward-looking study design. This means that at the start of the studies, none of the participants had any mental health issues, and the researchers observed them for a while to see if any mental health issues arose.

All experiments assessed cardiorespiratory condition and depression or anxiety.

In total, the researchers identified only seven studies to include in their qualitative synthesis and four that they could enter in their meta-analysis.

Their analysis of the last four studies – which included 27,733,154 person-years of data – produced significant results. The authors write:

We found that weak [cardiorespiratory fitness] and medium [cardiorespiratory fitness] are associated with a 47% and 23% increased risk of […] common mental health disorders, compared to [cardiorespiratory fitness]. “

They also found evidence of a dose-dependent relationship between fitness and common mental health issues. The authors explain that “[i]incremental increases of [the cardiorespiratory fitness] group have been associated with proportional decreases in the associated risk of new, common mental health disorders.

The results were in line with the researchers’ expectations. As Kandola said MNT, “Exercise is the biggest determinant of cardiorespiratory fitness”, and scientists have already discovered “the benefits of exercise for common mental health disorders”.

However, he explained that they “were surprised at the lack of research in this area.” He hopes their study “will help draw more attention to her.”

Kandola plans to continue exploring this avenue. He said MNT that the team “is currently working on several other studies to deepen the impact of exercise and fitness on mental health across the lifespan, and to identify possible mechanisms underlying this relationship.”


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