Low fitness linked to higher depression and anxiety risk, study shows

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In a new study, researchers found that people with low aerobic and muscular fitness are nearly twice as likely to experience depression.

Low fitness levels also predicted a 60% greater chance of anxiety, over a seven-year follow-up

The research was conducted by a team at UCL.

The study involved 152,978 participants aged 40 to 69 of the UK Biobank study.

Their aerobic fitness at the start of the study period was tested by using a stationary bike with the increasing resistance, while their muscular fitness was measured with a grip strength test.

They also completed a questionnaire gauging depression and anxiety symptoms.

Seven years later they were tested again for depression and anxiety symptoms, and the researchers found that high aerobic and muscular fitness at the start of the study was associated with better mental health seven years later.

People with the lowest combined aerobic and muscular fitness had 98% higher odds of depression, 60% higher odds of anxiety, and 81% higher odds of having either one of the common mental health disorders, compared to those with high levels of overall fitness.

Previous studies have shown that people who exercise more are less likely to experience mental illnesses, but most studies rely on people self-reporting their activity levels, which can be less reliable than the objective physical fitness measures used here.

These findings suggest that encouraging people to exercise more could have extensive public health benefits, improving not only our physical health but our mental health too.

Improving fitness through a combination of cardio exercise and strength and resistance training appears to be more beneficial than just focusing on aerobic or muscular fitness.

One author of the study is Dr. Joseph Hayes (UCL Psychiatry and Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust).

The study is published in BMC Medicine.

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