Regular exercise had greater cardiovascular (CV) benefits among patients with anxiety or depression, according to study results presented at the American College of Cardiology 71st Annual Scientific Session & Expo, from April 2nd through 4th, in Washington, DC.

Stress-associated neurobiological activity coupled with increased CV risk has been associated with anxiety and depression. As exercise decreases CV risk, investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital hypothesized that individuals with anxiety and depression may have a greater benefit from exercise than their counterparts.

In order to test their hypothesis, researchers asked patients (N=50,359) in the Mass General Brigham Biobank to self-report physical activity. Participants were stratified by whether they met the American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines of 500 metabolic equivalents of task-minutes per week and their exercise status was associated with medical coding data about anxiety, depression, CV risk factors, and major adverse CV events (MACE). For this study, MACE was defined as myocardial infarction, chest pain due to blocked artery, or undergoing procedure due to blocked artery.

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The study population was aged median 59 (IQR, 42-70) years. During a 1.8-year follow-up, 4033 developed coronary MACE.

Among the entire population, participants who met or exceeded the AHA exercise guidelines were at decreased risk for coronary MACE (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 0.838; 95% CI, 0.779-0.901; P =.015).

Stratified by anxiety and depression status, significant interactions were observed for both the anxiety (P =.0246) and depression (P =.03) cohorts.

Participants who met or exceeded the AHA exercise recommendation and had anxiety experienced a greater benefit (P <.0001) than the cohort without anxiety (P =.024) compared with their counterparts who did not meet exercise guidelines.

Similar trends were observed among the cohort with (P <.0001) or without (P =.02) depression, in which exercise had a nearly doubled protective effect among the cohort with depression.

This study may have been limited by relying on self-reported exercise and not objectively measured activity levels.

The study authors concluded that exercise was found to have a 22% CV risk reduction among the population of patients with anxiety or depression compared with a 10% risk reduction for individuals who did not have either condition. “These findings provide further support for the importance of [stress-associated neurobiological activity] in mediating the CV benefit of exercise,” the study authors wrote.


Zureigat H, Abohashem S, Grewal S, et al. Cardiovascular benefit of exercise is greater in those with anxiety and depression. Presented at: American College of Cardiology 71st Annual Scientific Session & Expo; April 2-4, 2022; Washington, DC. Abstract number 22-A-14429-ACC

Exercise Holds Even More Heart Health Benefits for People with Stress-Related Conditions. News Release. Washington, DC. March 24, 2022.

This article originally appeared on The Cardiology Advisor