Can you stop mental health issues like depression and anxiety before they even begin?

A new study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders set out to determine just that, focusing specifically on the impact of cardiorespiratory fitness on mental health.

What is cardiorespiratory fitness?

Cardiorespiratory fitness is the body’s ability to distribute oxygen to the cells via the cardiovascular and respiratory systems during exercise. There is a limited amount of research on the topic as it relates to mental health, because cardiorespiratory fitness is expensive to measure (especially in large groups).

For this reason, the researchers conducted a meta-analysis of four studies focused on cardiorespiratory fitness as it relates to depression and anxiety. The results were significant.

Low cardiorespiratory fitness was linked to a 47% increased risk of developing common mental health issues. Even medium cardiorespiratory fitness wasn’t quite satisfactory, showing a 23% greater risk when compared to high cardiorespiratory fitness.

The good news? Researchers also found a “dose-dependent” relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and risk level. That is to say, as cardiorespiratory fitness increases incrementally, the risk of developing mental health issues drops accordingly.

How to improve cardiorespiratory fitness:

When it comes to improving cardiorespiratory fitness, aerobic exercise is key. Any exercise that increases your heart rate and breathing is important to incorporate into your routine. Depending on your fitness level, this can be anything from walking to running, swimming, or biking.

Don’t be afraid to start slowly. Assess your current fitness level and set realistic goals. If you’re brand new to aerobic exercise or returning after a long hiatus, even 10-15 minutes three times a week will make a difference. But don’t get comfortable! Once that becomes easy, increase your routine to 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 times a week. You get the idea.

It is possible to decrease the risk of developing anxiety and depression. It starts with exercise.