It’s not the weather, it’s your lifestyle

December 30, 2008 by  

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Winter time is a difficult time for many people. It’s cold, dark, and gloomy. No wonder winter is associated with high incidence of depression.

Currently available data indicate that depressed individuals have a 50% higher risk for cardiovascular disease than those without psychological problems. Guidelines issued by American Heart Association (AHA) and endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association recommend that cardiac patients be routinely screened for depression. In addition, treatment of depression is commonly addressed during cardiac rehabilitation. In related previous posts, depression among heart patients were shown to be best tackled with a combination of psychotherapy and physical exercise.

But – we cannot blame the weather for everything. Researchers at the University of College London report that the wrong lifestyle leads to psychological distress, which in turn result in increased risk for cardiovascular disorders. In addition, the findings of the current study “suggest that treating psychological stress on its own might not be the best approach to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The study used data from the Scottish Health Survey (SHS) which followed up 6576 adults aged 30 years and above fo7 seven years (on the average). The researchers measured psychological distress as well as behavioral and pathophysiological risk factors. The measurements were based on the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12), an assessment tool which basically looked at general levels of happiness, depression and anxiety, and sleep disturbances.

The results showed that

“…behavioral factors, including smoking, physical activity, and alcohol consumption, accounted for 65% of the relationship between psychological distress and cardiovascular disease risk. An additional 19% of the association was explained by pathophysiological risk factors, such as hypertension and C-reactive protein (CRP).”

The role of smoking and physical activity seems especially significant. People who were stressed of psychologically distressed tended to be smokers who little or no exercise at all. “These two factors alone explain well over 50% of the association between distress and cardiovascular risk.” Surprisingly, alcohol explained only a small part of the psychological distress – cardiovascular risk link.

The study results indicate the association between psychological distress and cardiovascular risk can be largely explained by behaviour and lifestyle factors, in this case, cigarette smoking and physical activity.

If your goal is to treat mental illness for the purposes of reducing cardiovascular risk, you need to take a fairly broad approach and not just look at the psychological components,” lead investigator Dr Mark Hamer (University College London, UK) told heartwire. “You need to also look at the behavioral risk factors as well, with a particular emphasis on physical activity and smoking cessation.”

Now that we are about to enter the New Year, maybe it’s time to reflect on our lifestyle. Is there anything we can change for the better? For better mental and physical health?

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