About 350 million people suffer from depression globally, according to the World Health Organisation. It’s known as a mental disorder, but depression can also have an impact on your physical health, particularly your heart — according to a new study.
According to the new research, which was published in the journal Atherosclerosis, the risk of fatal heart disease in men due to depression is almost the same as the risk from elevated cholesterol levels or obesity.
Professor Karl-Heinz Ladwig, lead author of the study, said in a statement that previous research has shown that depression is a risk factor in developing cardiovascular problems, but how it compared to things like smoking and obesity in causing problems hadn’t been studied.
To assess the risks, the team analysed data from 3,428 male patients between 45 and 74 years old, and observed them over a decade. They compared the impact of depression on the heart with the four most common risk factors: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and obesity. Out of the 557 people that died over that time, 269 of the cases were caused by heart disease.
While the results showed that high blood pressure and smoking were linked to a respective 8.4% and 21.4% of heart diseases related deaths, people had depression in around 15% of cases.
“Our data show that depression has a medium effect size within the range of major, non-congenital risk factors for cardiovascular diseases,” said Ladwig in a statement. “In high risk patients, the diagnostic investigation of co-morbid depression should be standard. This could be registered with simple means.”
Heart disease and depression are linked for several reasons
The American Heart Association’s website says the two conditions often go hand in hand because when someone is feeling depressed, they’re probably less likely to be making their own health a priority.
“When people are stressed, anxious or feeling down, they’re not apt to make the healthy choice because they’re so overwhelmed by their situation,” Dr Nieca Goldberg told the website. “A person’s mental health, in terms of their general health, is underestimated.”
She added: “People turn to things that give them comfort and aren’t thinking about whether those things are healthy or not.”
One thing that can help both problems is beginning to incorporate some light exercise into your routine, like walking, even if it’s just for 10 minutes at a time. Studies have also shown that yoga can also have therapeutic benefits, as well as being a good way to ease yourself back into a healthier pattern.
“Exercise improves your mood while you’re doing it, but long-term studies show that people who exercise report better quality of life overall,” Goldberg said.