People With Low Fitness More Susceptible to Anxiety and Depression

Research findings another sign that physical exercise a crucial plank in the battle against mental illness
November 26, 2020 Updated: November 26, 2020

New research shows that people with low muscular and aerobic fitness are nearly twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety. The study by University College London researchers also found that people with low fitness levels showed a 60 percent greater chance of anxiety.

The study involved 152,978 participants who were admitted to the UK Biobank study. All participants were aged 40 to 69 years and had their baseline aerobic and muscular fitness tested at the start of the study. Stationary bikes with increasing resistance were used to test aerobic fitness levels along with grip strength tests for muscular fitness. Participants were also required to complete a questionnaire gauging anxiety and depression symptoms.

After seven years of follow-up, participants were tested again for depression and anxiety symptoms. It was found that those who had high aerobic and muscular fitness at the start of the study showed better mental health seven years later.

Compared to people with high levels of overall fitness, participants with the lowest combined aerobic and muscular fitness had 98 percent higher odds of depression, 60 percent higher odds of anxiety, and 81 percent higher odds of having either one of the common mental health disorders.

Previous studies have also found less occurrence of mental illness in people who exercise more. However, these studies rely on people self-reporting activity levels, which can be less reliable than using physical fitness measures.

Lead author Aaron Kandola said, “Here we have provided further evidence of a relationship between physical and mental health, and that structured exercise aimed at improving different types of fitness is not only good for your physical health, but may also have mental health benefits.”

Access to Local Gyms

With many people not being able to access local gyms due to local lockdowns, many are not as active as they normally would be. People need to remember that physical activity can play a key role in preventing mental health disorders. During a pandemic, this becomes particularly important in the battle against depression and anxiety.

Senior author Dr. Joseph Hayes concluded the study by saying: “Our 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.”

During this stressful time with lockdowns, it is more important than ever to focus on your mental well-being. If you are unable to visit your local gym, go for regular walks outside, use personal weights to perform weight-bearing exercises, or follow online exercise classes to get yourself moving.

Mental health can turn into a chronic illness if steps are not taken to help minimize the risk. Help yourself and others by encouraging physical activity and healthy eating. Lifestyle changes are significant for reducing the risk of mental illness, and this study helps to outline the relationship between the two.

Mat Lecompte is a freelance health and wellness journalist. This article was first published by Bel Marra Health.