Study: Exercise Cuts Heart Disease by 23% – With Double Benefits for Those With Depression

A recent study suggests that regular exercise can significantly decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, partly by alleviating stress.

Researchers discovered that exercise contributed to a reduction in stress-related brain activity, a factor linked to the development of cardiovascular conditions.

The study, involving over 50,000 individuals, revealed that those who adhered to the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week experienced a 23 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who didn’t meet these guidelines.

Interestingly, individuals with stress-related conditions like depression derived the greatest benefits from physical activity.

Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the study underscores how exercise can positively impact brain function.

To investigate the mechanisms underlying exercise’s psychological and cardiovascular benefits, researchers analyzed data from the Mass General Brigham Biobank, comprising 50,359 participants who completed a physical activity survey. Additionally, brain imaging tests and stress-related brain activity measurements were conducted on a subset of 774 participants.

Over a ten-year follow-up period, 12.9 percent of participants developed cardiovascular disease. Those meeting physical activity guidelines had a 23 percent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared to non-compliant individuals, and they also exhibited lower stress-related brain activity.

Notably, reductions in stress-associated brain activity were linked to improvements in the prefrontal cortex function, responsible for executive functions like decision-making and impulse control.

Furthermore, the cardiovascular benefits of exercise were twice as pronounced in participants with depression and higher stress-related brain activity.

Dr. Ahmed Tawakol, a cardiologist at the Cardiovascular Imaging Research Center at the hospital and senior author of the study, hopes that clinicians will leverage these findings to encourage more patients to embrace physical activity as a means to alleviate stress and depression.