Mental health can impact heart disease

New study finds depression a risk factor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Well-known risk factors like obesity, high blood pressure, and cholesterol can impact the risk of heart disease, but a new study found that depression can also increase the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

The study found depression accounted for about 15 percent of cardiovascular deaths. This puts depression up there with the classic “big five” risk factors for heart disease: high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and smoking. In fact, smoking and high blood pressure were the only risk factors that had a higher mortality rate than depression in terms of cardiovascular deaths.  

Previously, it was thought that depression led to negative behaviors, like smoking and unhealthy eating habits, that increased the risk of heart disease. But the study adjusted for these risk factors, and it still revealed a link between depression and heart disease. 

Dr. Saumil Oza, chief of cardiology at St. Vincent's Medical Center Riverside suggested three techniques for managing hearth health: identify the cause of stress, choose hearth healthy habits and practice stress reducing activities.

"It's all about the link between the mind and the body," Oza said. "There's also another study that shows that after a heart attack patients have a death rate of about 3 percent, in general. If they have depression, that goes up to 17 percent."

The first step in handling a mental health issue is to understand why you’re having it. Whether it’s work stress, family issues or depression over a chronic health condition, understanding the problem will give you the best pathway to treatment. If necessary, seek therapy or counseling services. 

The keys to a healthy lifestyle are regular physical activity and a lower fat diet. You should do moderate physical activity several times a week, as well as focus on a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in salt and processed sugars. However, trying to modify your diet or exercise can add extra stressors to your life. If you’re dealing with depression, it may be better to make these lifestyle changes in small steps.  

"Stress and depression are very closely related," Oza said. "About 40 percent of people with heart disease also have depression."

Some of the best practices for managing stress are breathing exercises, restorative yoga and meditation with guided imagery.

"I would recommend 30 minutes to an hour of stress management each day," Oza said.