Poor Cardiovascular Health and Depression: The Deadly Cycle

Apr 11, 2013
Tagged with: Poor Cardiovascular Health and Depression: The Deadly Cycle


A recent study on risk factors for cardiovascular disease has uncovered one heck of a “chicken or egg” conundrum. The recent Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study found a strong link between the presence of depressive symptoms and poor cardiovascular health indicators. The study examined depressive symptoms and scores on the American Heart Association’s (AHA’s) Life’s Simple 7 heart health indicators for over 20,000 participants.


The AHA’s Life’s Simple 7 and Depression Intertwined


Life’s Simple 7 is a list of seven components that contribute to cardiovascular health. An individual’s rating for each portion of the scale (Ideal, Intermediate, or Poor) gives an indication of where he or she can improve lifestyle factors to improve heart health and overall wellbeing. The seven categories include four indicators of health behaviors (smoking, physical activity, body mass index, and diet) and three biological measures (cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels).


Although researchers have long observed the link between depression and a variety of disabilities and other health conditions, the REGARDS Study offers the largest example of a direct correlation between worse health indicators on Life’s Simple 7 measures and worse scores on depression scales. The more depressed the individual, the more likely he or she was to score in the Poor category for the physical health indicators.


Which Came First: Depression or Disease?


Enter the “chicken or egg” problem. Because the REGARDS study was a cross-sectional study, meaning data were collected at only one point in time, it’s impossible to tell which came first—the depressive symptoms or the poor indicators of health.


After all, it’s hard to exercise and eat well when you feel too depressed to get out of bed. On the other hand, avoiding exercise because you are out of shape could lead you to a depleted sense of self-worth; lack of exercise can rob individuals of mood-boosting hormones and environmental vitamin D, which are essential to mood regulation.


Although the REGARDS study serves to reinforce the link between depression and heart health, it cannot offer a direction of causality. Instead, it can provide readers with an important lesson: physical health and mental health are intricately intertwined. The idea of physical and mental wellbeing bound together should not be bewildering to us. When we can, as individuals, take note of the impact a new physical diagnosis can have on our emotions, or observe the effect of an emotional blow on our willingness to eat well or exercise, we should also acknowledge the degree to which our physical and mental health can influence each other in the long run.


If there is one thing to take away from the REGARDS Study and those like it, I would urge you to internalize this: taking care of yourself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually is as crucial to your health as caring for yourself physically. Happiness and healthiness—no matter your functional limitations—grow together and are dependent on each other for true and lasting progress. Maybe the American Heart Association should add an eighth dimension to Life’s Simple 7, as it seems to be so closely linked to heart health: mental wellbeing!





Author: Katie BrindAmour