The heart, like any other muscle, requires exercise. Muscles that are used on a regular basis get stronger and healthier, whereas muscles that are not exercised weaken and atrophy. When the heart is trained, it can pump more blood through the body and continue to perform at peak efficiency with minimal strain. This will most likely allow it to remain healthy for a longer period of time. Regular exercise also helps improve the flexibility of arteries and other blood vessels, ensuring proper blood flow and blood pressure.
According to a study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 71st Annual Scientific Session, regular physical activity nearly doubled the cardiovascular benefit in people with depression or anxiety compared to people without these illnesses.
The findings add to the growing body of evidence that exercise promotes cardiovascular health by activating regions of the brain that counteract stress. Overall, persons who got the required amount of physical activity per week were 17 percent less likely to have a significant adverse cardiovascular event than those who didn’t. These benefits were much bigger in individuals who had anxiety or depression, with a 22% risk decrease compared to a 10% risk reduction in those who did not have either illness.
“The influence of physical activity on the brain’s stress response may be especially relevant in patients with stress-related mental problems,” said Hadil Zureigat, MD, the study’s principal author and postdoctoral clinical research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital. “This is not to say that exercise is just beneficial to individuals suffering from depression or anxiety, but we discovered that these patients appear to benefit more from physical activity in terms of cardiovascular health.”
Physical activity will not only make people feel better, but it will also significantly lower their risk of cardiovascular disease. It might be difficult to make the switch, but once done, the physical activity allows patients suffering from these frequent chronic stress-related psychiatric illnesses to kill two birds with one stone.Hadil Zureigat
During the COVID-19 pandemic, both depression and anxiety have increased, and heart disease remains the top cause of mortality in the United States. According to the researchers, the study findings highlight the importance of exercise in maintaining heart health and reducing stress.
For the study, researchers analyzed the health records of more than 50,000 patients in the Massachusetts General Brigham Biobank database. Just over 4,000 of the patients had suffered a major adverse cardiovascular event, which included experiencing a heart attack, having chest pain caused by a blocked artery, or undergoing a procedure to open a blocked artery in the heart.
Researchers first compared the rates of major coronary events among patients who reported in a questionnaire that they exercised at least 500 metabolic equivalents (MET) minutes per week, which corresponded to the ACC and American Heart Association primary prevention guideline recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. MET-minutes are a type of exercise unit that measures how much energy is consumed during various exercises. The study found that people who got at least 500 MET minutes per week were 17 percent less likely to have a cardiovascular incident.
They then analyzed how this pattern played out among patients who had a diagnosis of depression or anxiety compared with those who did not have depression or anxiety. This second analysis revealed that patients with depression derived more than double the benefit from exercise in terms of reduced cardiovascular risk compared with people who did not have depression. A similar benefit of exercise was found for patients with anxiety.
The study builds on prior research by the same team that used brain imaging to discover how exercise improves cardiovascular health by assisting in the regulation of the brain’s stress response. Individuals suffering from depression or anxiety have increased stress-related brain activity as well as a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
“When one thinks of physical activity lowering cardiovascular risk, one normally does not think of the brain,” Zureigat added. “Our findings highlight the significance of the stress-related brain pathways via which physical activity reduces cardiovascular risk.”
Despite the fact that the study utilized 500 MET minutes as a cutoff for the analysis, researchers emphasized that prior research has shown that people can reduce their risk of heart disease even if they do not meet the recommended amount of physical exercise. Even a little bit of physical activity on a regular basis can make a difference in terms of cardiovascular risk.
“Any quantity of exercise is beneficial, especially for people suffering from sadness or anxiety,” Zureigat added. “Physical activity will not only make people feel better, but it will also significantly lower their risk of cardiovascular disease. It might be difficult to make the switch, but once done, the physical activity allows patients suffering from these frequent chronic stress-related psychiatric illnesses to kill two birds with one stone.”