Keep fit in middle age to avoid latelife depression

It’s becoming increasingly clear that how healthy you are in midlife has significant flow-on effects to your health in old age. That’s recently been shown to be the case for dementia, but what about depression? It’s an exceptionally common mental health issue which can be challenging to deal with in its own right. But it also comes with unpleasant associated risks of heart disease and other conditions. A US study has sought to answer the question - does higher physical fitness in middle age mean you’re less likely to get depression once you’re older?

In the study, researchers followed about 18,000 people over a 10-year period. They measured each person’s BMI, blood pressure, and cardiorespiratory fitness. They also collected data on which of the people in the study developed depression over the ten years, as well as who died and of what cause.

In all, 2701 people were diagnosed with depression, and 841 died due to heart disease. What was clear was that fitness did have an influence on a person’s likelihood of developing depression. Higher levels of fitness led to a 16 per cent lower risk of depression. And for those who did develop depression, you were better off with higher fitness - it meant a 56 per cent lower risk of death from heart disease.

Implications

We bang on about the importance of staying fit, especially for your mental health. It’s been shown to have a mild antidepressant effect, but this study demonstrates that it’s not just your current self who benefits - future you does too. Keep fit, be well and age healthily is the message here.

References

Willis, et al. (2018). Association of Midlife Cardiorespiratory Fitness With Incident Depression and Cardiovascular Death After Depression in Later Life. JAMA Psychiatry doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.1467.