Common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, are a growing global issue.
They reduce overall wellbeing and life satisfaction, but they may also increase the risk of
cardiovascular disease and increased mortality risk.
Although talking therapies and medication can help in many instances, they do not help
An issue as substantial as mental health needs an effective public health strategy; stopping
mental health issues before they begin would, of course, be ideal.
Researchers are focused on unraveling the myriad of factors that increase the risk of developing
mental health conditions. Although it is not possible to alter some of these factors, such as
genetics, it is possible to modify some lifestyle factors, including diet and physical activity.
Scientists are keen to identify which modifiable factors might have the most significant impact
on mental health. Some researchers are looking at physical fitness.
The authors of a recent study investigated whether cardiorespiratory fitness might be an effective
intervention. Cardiorespiratory fitness is a measure of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems'
capacity to supply oxygen to the body during exercise.
They recently published the results of their analysis in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
The authors explain how previous studies have found that low physical activity is associated
with a greater incidence of common mental health disorders." However, few studies have
investigated whether cardiorespiratory fitness is directly related to mental health risk.
To investigate, the researchers hunted down studies that looked at how fitness interacts with
mental health risk.
They only included papers that used a prospective study design. This means that at the beginning
of the studies, none of the participants had mental health conditions, and researchers observed
them for a time to see if any mental health issues arose.
All experiments assessed cardiorespiratory fitness and either depression or anxiety.
In total, the researchers only identified seven studies to include in their qualitative synthesis and
four that they could enter into their meta-analysis.
Their analysis of the latter four studies — which included 27,733,154 person-years of data —
produced significant results. The authors write:
We found that low [cardiorespiratory fitness] and medium [cardiorespiratory fitness] are
associated with a 47% and 23% greater risk of […] common mental health disorders, compared
with high [cardiorespiratory fitness]."
They also found evidence of a dose-dependent relationship between fitness and common mental
health conditions. The authors explain that incremental increases in the cardiorespiratory fitness
the group were associated with proportional decreases in associated risk of new-onset common
mental health disorders"
The results were in line with the researchers' expectations, Exercise is the biggest determinant
of cardiorespiratory fitness," and scientists have already uncovered 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
that their study will help to draw more attention to it."
Kandola plans to continue exploring this avenue. He said that the team is currently working on
several other studies to further investigate the impact of exercise and fitness on mental health
across the lifespan, and to identify possible mechanisms that underlie this relationship."
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