The Physically Active Less Prone to Post-Heart Attack Depression

Linda ErnstsenDepression 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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Mental health and healthy aging – benefits of exercise in healthy and diseased populations

hodepineThe evidence supporting the physical and mental health benefits of exercise across the life span is compelling. In a recent review of prospective population based studies the authors concluded that those practicing regular physical activity at had significantly lower risk of depressive symptoms. Further, the latest Cochrane review of randomized controlled studies on exercise among patients with medical diagnosed depression concluded that exercise had the same antidepressant effect as psychological or pharmacological therapies.

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Does the cell’s own powerhouse contribute to depression?

Woman looking sadly out of a windowThe mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cells, where nutrients from food is converted to ATP: energy that is usable by the body. Normally, we associate better mitochondrial function with athletes: being able to run, swim or bike fast over long distances requires a lot of energy.

However, all cells in the body require energy and a team of researchers from the University of Ulm, Germany investigated if mitochondrial function was impaired in immune cells (peripheral blood mononuclear cells) of patients suffering from depression. Their reasoning was that symptoms of depression such as fatigue and lack of energy could be related to ATP availability.

Read also: Can exercise training prevent premature death in elderly?

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The rough always follows the smooth

The health-related benefits of physical activity are well-known. For instance, we have previously posted the popoular “23 1/2 hour”-video on the blog, showing the association between being physical active and having a lower risk of depression, anxiety and several other psychological symptoms. But physical activity is not the only health behaviour that are linked to psychological issues.

A recently published study showed that the consumption of baked goods such as buns and cakes, and fast food such as pizza, hotdogs and hamburgers, were strongly associated with depression. The study was conducted in a sample of 8964 former university students in Spain, with no depression symptoms at baseline. They were then followed through an average period of 6 months, where 493 participants developed depression or started taking antidepressants. The analysis revealed a dose-response relationship, which means that the more food that was consumed, the higher the chance of being depressed.

Girl with two donutsThe characteristics of people with the highest consume of commercial baked goods and fast food were that they were more likely to be single, less active and also have bad dietary habits, such as consuming a smaller amount of vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish and olive oil. Cigarette smoking and working more than 45 hours per week were also typical in this group.

Why do fast food and cakes increase the chance of being depressed? The authors suggest that this actually may be explained biologically: Previous research has found depression to be associated with a low-grade inflammatory status, endothelial dysfunction, worse lipid profiles and impaired insulin and glucose homeostasis. All these symptoms are at the same time associated with a high consumption of transunsaturated fatty acids (TFA) – a main ingredience in fast food and commercial baked goods. Alternative explanations could be that a high consumption of unhealthy food in most cases leads to overweight and obesity – conditions that are well known to be related with psychological problems. Likewise, the typical high-consumer was single, inactive and worked a lot. These characterisics may lead to depression as well.

Maria Henningsen, CERG