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Physical fitness crucial to tackling depression and anxiety

A major seven-year study of more than 150,000 people has found that those with higher levels of aerobic fitness and muscular strength are significantly less likely to experience depression and anxiety.

The study, individual and combined associations between cardiorespiratory fitness and grip strength with common mental disorders: a prospective cohort study in the UK Biobank, was led by Aaron Kandola of University College London's Division of Psychiatry and involved 152,978 participants, aged between 40 and 69, who were part of the UK Biobank Study.

Kandola and his team collected baseline measurements from the cohort between August 2009 and December 2010. An exercise test and dynamometer were used to measure cardiorespiratory and grip strength. A follow-up then measured common mental health symptoms via a Mental Health Questionnaire.

The research, published in November 2020 found that people with low combined fitness levels (low cardiorespiratory fitness and low grip strength) were twice as likely to suffer from depression than those with higher combined fitness levels. Those with lower levels of fitness were also 1.6 times more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders.

The study authors said, "To the best of our knowledge, this is the first prospective study to examine associations between individual and combined cardiorespiratory fitness and grip strength with the incidence of common mental disorders in the general population."

When looking at cardiorespiratory fitness and grip strength as separate exposures, the effect sizes were smaller. "We found that compared with high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, those with lower fitness levels were associated with 1.5 times higher odds of a common mental disorder incidence and low grip strength with 1.4 times higher odds. "There was some evidence of a dose-response relationship between fitness and the incidence of common mental disorders. "We also found that associations with grip strength and anxiety disorders had higher odds ratios for women than men, and for older than younger adults."

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