A new study from University College London says that lack of aerobic and muscular fitness nearly doubles rates of anxiety and depression.
The study involved 152,978 participants from the ages of 40 to 69. Researchers tested the participants' baseline fitness levels with stationary bikes and a grip strength test and gave them a questionnaire to measure anxiety and depression levels.
Seven years later, participants completed the questionnaire again. Researchers found that those who were more physically fit in the initial test – even after this extended time period – were far less likely to have symptoms of mental illness.
"People with the lowest combined aerobic and muscular fitness had 98% higher odds of depression, 60% higher odds of anxiety, and 81% higher odds of having either one of the common mental health disorders, compared to those with high levels of overall fitness," concluded the study.
The researchers note that while many studies have shown a link between exercise and mental health, most rely on self-reported activity levels that are less objective in measuring results.
Senior author Dr. Joseph Hayes said that that study showed a combination of cardiovascular exercise and strength training is more beneficial than focusing on only one or the other. Lead author and PhD student Aaron Kandola also said a mere few weeks of regular, intensive exercise can make a big difference in improving mental health.
"Reports that people are not as active as they used to be are worrying, and even more so now that global lockdowns have closed gyms and limited how much time people are spending out of the house," added Kandola. "Physical activity is an important part of our lives and can play a key role in preventing mental health disorders."