Physical fitness is associated with a number of key health outcomes, including heart disease, cognition, mortality, and an overall feeling of well-being.
A new study from Singapore now links physical performance with mental health and emotions, suggesting that weak upper and lower body fitness can cause more serious depression and anxiety in midlife women.
Results are published online today in Menopause.
Although several studies have previously linked depression in midlife women with self-reported low physical activity, this new study is the first known (even in Western populations) to evaluate objective measures of physical performance in relation to depression and anxiety in premenopausal, perimenopausal, and postmenopausal women.
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% of participants, especially those of younger age, reported depression and/or anxiety.
Because depression can cause disability, reduced quality of life, mortality, and heart disease, the researchers felt it was important to identify potentially modifiable risk factors that could reduce morbidity and mortality.
The researchers observed significant associations of objective physical performance measures with depression and anxiety. The image is in the public domain.
The researchers observed significant associations of objective physical performance measures with depression and anxiety.
Specifically, they found that weak upper body strength (handgrip strength) and poor lower body strength (longer duration to complete the repeated chair stand test) were associated with elevated depression and/or anxiety symptoms.
Major effects anxiety has on your body
Anxiety disorders can happen at any stage of life, but they usually begin by middle age. Women are more likely to have an anxiety disorder than men, says the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Stressful life experiences may increase your risk for an anxiety disorder, too. Symptoms may begin immediately or years later. Having a serious medical condition or a substance use disorder can also lead to an anxiety disorder.
There are several types of anxiety disorders. They include:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
GAD is marked by excessive anxiety for no logical reason. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates GAD affects about 6.8 million American adults a year.
GAD is diagnosed when extreme worry about a variety of things lasts six months or longer. If you have a mild case, you’re probably able to complete your normal day-to-day activities. More severe cases may have a profound impact on your life.
Social anxiety disorder
This disorder involves a paralyzing fear of social situations and of being judged or humiliated by others. This severe social phobia can leave one feeling ashamed and alone.
About 15 million American adults live with social anxiety disorder, notes the ADAA. The typical age at onset is around 13. More than one-third of people with social anxiety disorder wait a decade or more before pursuing help.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD develops after witnessing or experiencing something traumatic. Symptoms can begin immediately or be delayed for years. Common causes include war, natural disasters, or a physical attack. PTSD episodes may be triggered without warning.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
People with OCD may feel overwhelmed with the desire to perform particular rituals (compulsions) over and over again, or experience intrusive and unwanted thoughts that can be distressing (obsessions).
Common compulsions include habitual hand-washing, counting, or checking something. Common obsessions include concerns about cleanliness, aggressive impulses, and need for symmetry.
These include fear of tight spaces (claustrophobia), fear of heights (acrophobia), and many others. You may have a powerful urge to avoid the feared object or situation.
This causes panic attacks, spontaneous feelings of anxiety, terror, or impending doom. Physical symptoms include heart palpitations, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
These attacks may occur at any time. You can also have another type of anxiety disorder along with panic disorder.
Future trials will be needed to determine whether strengthening exercises that improve physical performance might similarly help reduce depression and anxiety in midlife women.
Findings were published in the article “Objective measures of physical performance associated with depression and/or anxiety in midlife Singaporean women.”
“Strength training has been shown to lead to a significant reduction in depressive symptoms,” says 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.”
Eileen Petridis – NAMS
The image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Closed access
“Objective measures of physical performance associated with depression and/or anxiety in midlife Singaporean women”. Ganasarajah, Shamini; Sundström Poromaa, Inger; Thu, Win Pa; Kramer, Michael S.; Logan, Susan; Cauley, Jane A.; Yong, Eu-Leong.