UNIQUE data has shed light on the mental health of individuals who have experienced a heart attack. The analysis, which used the data collected from 1984–86, 1995–97, and 2006–08 for the Nord-Trøndelag HUNT studies, facilitated the interpretation of long-term consequences of exercise habits in relation to the aftermath of a heart attack.
The large dataset, covering 22 years of physical exercise, lifestyle, and mental health histories in 120,000 people, was also connected to health registries such as the Norwegian Myocardial Infarction Registry, improving the reliability of the relatively small sample group (N=189) results.
Those who have experienced a heart attack are 3-times as likely to face depression as those who have not and by the third HUNT study an average of 11% of participants were depressed; however, the research has, for the first time, illuminated the subtle complexities of lifestyle choice and cardiovascular health in relation to depression. The sample group was divided into four categories: those who never exercised, those who exercised only in the first HUNT study period, those who exercised only in the second HUNT study period, and those who exercised consistently across all three HUNT study periods. Individuals exercising at moderate intensity for a minimum of 150 minutes per week, or at high intensity for 75 minutes per week, were considered physically active.
After a heart attack, >17% of those who had never exercised experienced depression, compared with just 7.5% of those who had consistently exercised. In participants who exercised during the first study period, but had stopped by the second, the rate of depression following a heart attack was 12.5%, while 9.1% of those who only exercised in the second study period became depressed.
“Physical activity protects people from depression after a heart attack,” Prof Linda Ernsten, Department of Nursing Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway, succinctly concluded.
Encouragingly, the study also found that being physically active early in life will reduce the likelihood of depression post heart attack, even if regular activity had since ended. However, the chance of depression is even lower if regular exercise begins later in life.
Future research may focus on reproducing this result in a larger cohort.