Having Depression Increases Risk for Heart Disease

It has long been known that depression increases the risk of heart disease by as much as 50%. A new study of veterans in San Francisco indicates that the reason for this may be surprisingly simple. Depressed people rarely exercise, and lack of exercise is well-known contributor to heart ailments.

Doctors at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco tracked the behaviors of 1,017 patients with heart disease, and about 10% of depressed heart patients had additional heart problems, compared with only 6.7% of other patients. That relatively small difference became a 31% higher risk of heart problems among the depressed people once confounding variables were removed. However, once the variable of exercise was removed, the difference vanished. Patients who didn’t exercise had a 44% higher risk of heart problems, whether or not they were depressed.

Previous studies have pointed to a possible link between antidepressant use and lower heart risk. Dr. Mary A. Whooley, professor of medicine, epidemiology, and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, was one of the researchers. Whooley believes the study provides convincing evidence that lifestyle factors are the main factor in depression’s link to heart disease, at least in populations demographically similar to the men in the study—older men with stable coronary disease.

Identifying this connection doesn’t mean these findings translate easily into lowered mortality rates. “The clinical practice question is a challenging one,” says Dr. Whooley. “It’s easy for us to tell patients to exercise, take their medicines, and refrain from smoking, but actually changing health behaviors is very difficult.”

© Copyright 2008 by Daniel Brezenoff, Licensed Clinical Social Worker. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Cindy

    December 2nd, 2008 at 3:15 AM

    It seems like we hear a lot about hear disease and things that contribute to it. I am a firm believer in exercise to at least help reduce the risk. Now we are hearing that Depression also increases the risk of hear disease. There are medicines out there that help depression, but will this be enough to reduce the risk of heart disease?

  • Gary

    December 2nd, 2008 at 3:46 AM

    What an interesting correlation and one that unfortunately is an endless cycle. When you do not exercise you can develop heart disease, which makes you depressed, which leaves you lethargic and unable to exercise, etc. The list goes on and on. This means that we have to do a better job as a whole promoting a healthy lifestyle from a very early age so that even kids know and respect the importance of daily physical activities in their lives.

  • Cal

    December 3rd, 2008 at 3:56 AM

    I always feel better after I exercise no matter what kind of day I have had. I wish more people would get up and get moving to realize how good and strong this can make them feel.

  • Kylie

    December 3rd, 2008 at 10:24 AM

    I agree Gary… when we have kids, we need to start then and provide the education as well as helping as parents when they are young. Children see us parents (adults) as their role models and I believe it should be expected of us to teach them exercise, healthy eating, etc to at least help prevent his from happening.

  • Starla

    December 4th, 2008 at 4:22 PM

    It is agreed that this kind of education needs to start at an early age. But you have to admit that there are still some factors that you have to take into account such as family history which are still going to leave some predisposed to the condition, be it heart disease or depression. And then I think there are people who will deny the healthy living adage because of their family history. They assume that bad things are going to happen to them anyway because of what happened to grandpa 40 years ago so they continue to make the unwise behavioral choices. There are battles on many fronts that we are fighting here, and although I applaud the research, I think we still need to strengthen our education and community outreach programs in regards to this issue as well.

  • Norma

    December 5th, 2008 at 5:29 AM

    These are adults. They know the right things to do. There is nothing anyone else can do to change their habits until they are able to do it on their own.

  • Staci

    December 7th, 2008 at 5:46 AM

    Norma you are right that they are adults but that does not mean we have to stop trying to get them to lead healthier lifestyles does it? I think that when this is affecting someone that you love then you have to always keep trying.

  • Keely

    December 8th, 2008 at 3:59 AM

    My dad had heart disease and died when I was 12 years old. I just only wished that he and I had the education back then to get him on an exercise program Even tho the doctor had put him on a strict diet. I know that exercise makes the heart stronger and today I realize that.

  • Jackson

    December 9th, 2008 at 4:04 AM

    This article in and of itself should be all of the motivation that we need to get moving people! We have allowed ourselves to become a lazy and dormant society and this is wrecking havoc on our physical as well as our emotional health. There have been so many studies done that show conclusively the numerous benefits that exercise and a healthy lifestyle can have on our overall well being yet we continue to ignore many of them. Why is that? I never feel better than when I complete a run or a hike or even just get out in the yard and get active and play with my kids. How many of us are really doing that on a daily basis? It makes me sad to realize that in a few years I may lose grandparents and parents, and possibly friends even in my own age bracket to things that for the most part are preventable and that we have the ability to control through healthier living. There is simply no excuse for the state of our health care and what we are doing for oursleves to be the way that it is. The knowledege and the research are all there. It is now up to us to put all of that along with our bodies in motion and make a difference.

  • kendall

    December 12th, 2008 at 4:20 AM

    I too exercise and really feel exhilarated afterwards. I know that it is hard for some of us to get in that daily routine and exercise itself can be tiresome, once you start, but you do get used to it and it actually becomes a part of your everyday life. It is a lot easier just to sit back and do nothing than it is to get up and start moving. I understand, I’ve been there, and there are still some days that I don’t feel like exercising, but I have to just not think about and and just get up and do it. I know that it will make me healthier if I do.

  • Fallon

    December 18th, 2008 at 2:12 PM

    I know that I just feel like crap when I let myself go for a while without exercise. I just feel so much healthier and stronger mentally and physically when I get up and get moving. maybe more physicians should start prescribing exercise and physical movements as treatment for depression rather than always turning to drugs and pharmaceuticals.

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