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Cardiorespiratory Fitness May Halve Depression Risk

October 19, 2020

A higher level of cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with a lower risk of incident depressive symptoms, according to a study published online in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

“Compared to a low cardiorespiratory fitness,” researchers wrote, “participants with moderate-to-high cardiorespiratory fitness had an approximately 50% reduced risk of developing depressive symptoms during follow-up.”

Investigators tapped data from a large population-based prospective cohort study to examine the link between cardiorespiratory fitness and incidence of clinically relevant depressive symptoms on the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). The analysis focused on 1730 adults without depression at baseline.

Evidence of Exercise as an Antidepressant Growing, but Underrecognized

Over a 5-year follow-up, 9.6% of the 1730 participants developed clinically relevant depressive symptoms, defined by a PHQ-9 score of at least 10, according to the study. Participants with moderate-to-high cardiorespiratory fitness had a significantly lower risk of developing depressive symptoms, compared with participants with low cardiorespiratory fitness.

The link between higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness and lower risk of depressive symptoms was independent of physical activity levels at baseline, researchers noted. 

“Improvement of cardiorespiratory fitness by physical activity can vary markedly between individuals,” researchers wrote. “Therefore, further knowledge into understanding which factors could improve cardiorespiratory fitness especially in the nonresponders and its association with incident depression is needed to further improve the efficacy of physical activity programs to reduce the high burden of depression in our society.”

—Jolynn Tumolo 


Gianfredi V, Koster A, Eussen SJPM, et al. The association between cardio-respiratory fitness and incident depression: the Maastricht Study. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2020 September 29;[Epub ahead of print].

Cardiorespiratory fitness may cut risk of depressive symptoms. Psychiatric News Alert. October 2, 2020.

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