Although physical fitness has been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease and enhancing well-being, a new study appears to bolster the mental health benefits of staying in shape, especially staying strong, among midlife women.
Physical fitness is a well-known predictor of physical and mental health among men and women. Benefits of staying fit include improved cardiovascular health, enhanced cognition, reduced morbidity and a better quality of life.
In the study, researchers from Singapore determined physical performance is linked to mental health and emotions. Specifically, their findings suggest that weak upper and lower body fitness can cause more serious depression and anxiety in midlife women.
Although several studies have previously linked depression in midlife women with self-reported low physical activity, the new study is unique. The investigation is the first to evaluate objective measures of physical performance (strength, upper/lower body fitness) in relation to depression and anxiety in premenopausal, perimenopausal, and postmenopausal women.
The study appears online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).
Depression and anxiety are prevalent symptoms experienced by midlife women. This latest study of more than 1,100 women aged 45 to 69 years found, in fact, that 15 percent of participants, especially those of younger age, reported depression and/or anxiety.
As depression can cause disability, reduced quality of life, mortality, and heart disease, the researchers believed it was important to identify potentially modifiable risk factors that could reduce morbidity and mortality.
The investigators observed significant associations of objective physical performance measures with depression and anxiety.
Specifically, they found that weak upper body strength (hand grip strength) and poor lower body strength (longer duration to complete the repeated chair stand test) were associated with elevated depression and/or anxiety symptoms.
Scientists note that future trials are necessary to determine whether strengthening exercises that improve physical performance might similarly help reduce depression and anxiety in midlife women.
“Strength training has been shown to lead to a significant reduction in depressive symptoms,” said Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director.
“Both strength training and aerobic exercise appear to improve depression, possibly as a result of increased blood flow to the brain or improved coping with stress from the release of endorphins such as norepinephrine and dopamine.”