Although many people living in first world countries this century are fortunate enough to access the benefits of modern medicine, which can cure many of the diseases that plagued prior generations, there are problems today those people never knew of nor had reason to fear.

One of the most pressing concerns facing the current population is the pernicious threat of anxiety, depression and other mental health illnesses. While theories and data abound as to where and how these issues are exacerbated, the need to ameliorate them once discovered is immediate and urgent. Thus, scientists are hard at work to test various methodology and share their results with the public at large.

In fact, exercise may be a great way to fight these mental battles according to a new study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, which reached the following conclusion: “Our findings indicate that there is a longitudinal association between CRF levels and the risk of a common mental health disorder. CRF levels could be useful for identifying and preventing common mental health disorders at a population-level.” (CRF stands for cardiorespiratory fitness.)

In an article on Medical News Today, story author Tim Newman detailed the findings, writing:

To investigate, the researchers hunted down studies that looked at how fitness interacts with mental health risk.

They only included papers that used a prospective study design. This means that at the beginning of the studies, none of the participants had mental health conditions, and researchers observed them for a time to see if any mental health issues arose.

All experiments assessed cardiorespiratory fitness and either depression or anxiety.

In total, the researchers only identified seven studies to include in their qualitative synthesis and four that they could enter into their meta-analysis. 

Their analysis of the latter four studies — which included 27,733,154 person-years of data — produced significant results. The authors write: “We found that low [cardiorespiratory fitness] and medium [cardiorespiratory fitness] are associated with a 47% and 23% greater risk of […] common mental health disorders, compared with high [cardiorespiratory fitness].”

They also found evidence of a dose-dependent relationship between fitness and common mental health conditions. The authors explain that “[i]ncremental increases in [the cardiorespiratory fitness] group were associated with proportional decreases in associated risk of new onset common mental health disorders.”

To read Newman’s full writeup, including quotes from the lead study author Aaron Kandola, click here.