Depression is common and estimates suggest that in a family of four, one of the family members will likely suffer from mental health problems. Depression is even 3 times more common in patients after a heart attack than in the general population. Depression after a heart attack is bad not only because of the accompanying emotional distress, it also increases the risk of having another heart attack or premature death.
Studies of patients with coronary heart disease with elevated depressive symptoms support that exercise is just as effective as antidepressant drugs, and that the reduction in depressive symptoms among those participating in cardiac rehabilitation is related to improvements in fitness. All together the existing literature gives support for a positive effect of aerobic exercise on depressive symptoms in patients with established heart disease.
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However, less is known about the long term effect of physical activity habits on the risk of developing depression after an initial heart attack. Therefore, using data from the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study in Norway, we studied whether pattern of leisure time physical activity among 189 patients ten years prior to being hospitalized with a heart attack was associated with level of depressive symptoms after the initial heart attack. We found that that those performing regular physical activity over 10 years prior to their first heart attack had almost 20 percent less odds of being depressed compared to their counterparts being stable inactive in the same period. The data also revealed that those who changed from being inactive to become physical active prior to their first heart attack had a better protection against depression compared to those changed from being physical active to inactive.
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At present we do not know the mechanisms linking physical activity to the development of depression. And we do not know if depression after coronary heart is related to the pathophysiology of heart disease, or if it is the patterns of physical activity itself that is the driving force behind our recent findings.
“Only exercise on the days you eat,” is the advice Dr. Joseph S. Alpert, editor-in-chief of The American Journal of Medicine, gives his cardiology patients. In the American Journal of Medicine Blog you`ll find a compilation of recent research and commentary on the importance of regular exercise.
Regular physical activity is undoubtedly beneficial for both mental and physical health.
Linda Ernstsen, Postdoc at CERG