(Natural News) Depression affects more than just your mind. While most sufferers can attest to depression’s far-reaching effects on their emotions and relationships, it can also wreak havoc on your physical health. In bad news for the 350 million people around the world who are affected by depression, a new report in the journal Atherosclerosis shows that depression causes a risk of cardiovascular diseases in men that equals the one presented by obesity and high cholesterol.
Part of the reason for this effect is depression’s ability to interfere with people’s daily lives just as much as heart disease, and in some cases even more. Patients who suffer from major depression are also as many as three to four times more likely to die within six months after a heart attack than patients who do not have the condition. Having depression also makes individuals more vulnerable to future heart attacks or hospital visits related to heart problems.
A team of German researchers led by Karl-Heinz Ladwig examined the data of nearly 3,500 men aged 45 to 74 over the course of ten years. They compared depression’s impact on the men’s health with that of four other major risk factors, including high cholesterol, hypertension, obesity, and smoking tobacco. While factors like smoking and high blood pressure posed a higher risk of fatal heart disease than depression, they found that depression raised the risk nearly as much as serious health problems like high cholesterol and obesity, emphasizing just how seriously your mental health can impact your physical well-being.
This finding ties into previous studies showing a two-directional link between heart problems and depression. For example, a study of more than 1,200 male twins found that those who were depressed had double the risk of developing heart disease than those who did not have depression.
Women, take note: The problem is not just affecting men. In a study of more than 63,000 women in the U.S., depressed women were found to have a risk of sudden cardiac death that was 133 percent higher than their peers.
While no one wants to add to a depressed person’s misery, hopefully this news will spur those suffering from this condition to take some positive steps toward tackling it. The solution is not taking antidepressants, however. In fact, these drugs can have quite the opposite effect. A study from University College London, for example, found that patients who took tricyclic antidepressants had a significantly higher likelihood of suffering from heart disease. These drugs are also known to increase blood pressure and cause diabetes and weight gain, which are also risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Exercise can solve both problems
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can alleviate depression that won’t put your heart health at risk. In fact, some approaches can lower your depression and boost your heart health at the same time, like yoga, mindful meditation, and exercise. Regular exercise spurs the release of feel-good chemicals in the body known as endorphins, which dull your perception of pain and instill a sense of calmness. It also enhances your cardiovascular system, making it an ideal choice for people with depression who are concerned about its effects on their heart.
There’s no need to train for a marathon; just half an hour of any type of movement that elevates your heart rate a few times a week is enough to reduce your depression symptoms, whether you decide to walk, golf, garden, or even dance. Best of all, studies have shown that even people who start exercising in middle age can cut their risk of heart disease by 55 percent.