A new study suggests that individuals who engage in regular physical exercise throughout adulthood are less likely to suffer depression after having a heart attack.
Chronic inactivity is a contributing factor in many health problems; in fact, it has been cited as the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. On the other hand, engaging in regular physical exercise has been shown to have many health benefits. Not the least among them is its ability to help combat depression.
In a recent study, scientists looked in particular at the relationship between a long-term habit of regular exercise and the likelihood of suffering depression following a heart attack. For this study, scientists used data from a Norwegian general health survey (the HUNT survey) which was collected in three phases: from 1986-1988; from 1995-1997; and from 2006-2008. Patients who had participated in all three survey phases, and had suffered a heart attack between the second and third phases, but had no prior history of heart disease or depression, were included in the study
Scientists took note of how many patients developed depression following their heart attack, and compared that data with the patients’ exercise patterns over the phases of the HUNT survey. Patients were categorized into four groups:
- Those who were persistently inactive over all phases of the survey;
- Those who went from being active to inactive during the survey;
- Those who went from being inactive to active during the survey;
- Those who were persistently active throughout the survey.
Overall, 11% of patients suffered depression following the heart attack. However, the incidence of depression across categories of activity showed a distinct trend favouring those who had a habit of engaging in regular exercise:
- Patients who were persistently active – 7.5% suffered depression;
- Patients who changed from being inactive to being active – 9.1% suffered depression;
- Patients who changed from being active to inactive – 12.5% suffered depression;
- Patients who were persistently inactive – 17.4% suffered depression.
The main finding of this study was that maintaining a recommended level of physical activity in adulthood was significantly associated with lower odds of having depressive symptoms after a heart attack. This finding is in keeping with data from other research indicating more broadly that a long-term habit of engaging in regular physical exercise can be a useful strategy for preventing or combating depression.
Written by Linda Jensen