Get moving to beat the blues of winter

Depression and heart disease often overlap, and, like that old chicken-or-egg question, no one really knows which comes first. Researchers have observations and theories, but very little evidence on the exact relationship between the two conditions.

Like heart disease, depression is common, so it’s not unusual to have both conditions together. The low energy that accompanies depression makes it difficult to do all the things that protect us from heart disease: eating healthfully, sleeping well, exercising, and maintaining social connections to name a few. On the other hand, researchers have observed for years that patients often experience depression after a heart attack or open-heart surgery. Depression also brings physiological changes that may increase risks to heart health. Could it be that underlying heart problems are causing depression?

Depression is about twice as likely to occur in people with heart disease compared with the general population. At the same time, this common mood disorder is also linked to a higher risk of dying of heart disease.

Those are somewhat depressing statistics, but there is some promising news. A study published online June 27, 2018 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry suggests that mid-life physical fitness decreases the risks for both depression and for dying from cardiovascular disease. In other words, exercising now plays a protective role for both conditions later!

The study included nearly 18,000 people (mostly male) and used records dating back to the early 1970s. Researchers found that people who were fit during middle age were 16 percent less likely to develop depression after age 65. High fitness levels in midlife were also linked to fewer deaths from heart disease. More importantly, even among people diagnosed with depression, higher levels of fitness were linked to a 56 percent lower risk of cardiovascular death in later life.

Being out in the winter, even snowshoeing, and being active can help change a state of mind.

So, get your fitness on! Activities such as brisk walking, cycling, snowshoeing, or swimming improve fitness levels, improve mood, and should be an important part of strategies to prevent both heart disease and depression across the life span. Being active adds days to your life, and life to your days.

And if you are already experiencing depression, and can’t summon the motivation to go out for that brisk walk? Please look for help. If you think you have depression, your primary care provider is a good place to start. He or she may prescribe medication and may help you with referral to talk therapy. If you can’t wait, call our County’s Crisis and Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-724-0461.

CHQ 250 is an initiative of the Chautauqua Health Action Team (CHAT), encouraging you to take action to be one of at least 250 strokes, heart attacks, or related deaths prevented in Chautauqua County in the coming year. This column is written by CHAT members to share information to help you to do your part to live a life free of stroke or heart disease; it is not intended to replace advice provided by your healthcare team. Please direct questions or comments to: