Roundup: New Insights on How Exercise Benefits Those with Anxiety, Depression; Latest on Living Longer by Shifting to Plant-Based Diets; and More News


Research: Physical Activity May Sharply Lower Heart Failure Risk in Those with Depression, Anxiety

Previous studies have confirmed that regular exercise is highly beneficial for improving symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. A new study has found that physical activity may also significantly reduce the risk of heart failure among individuals with depression or anxiety-- even more so than in people without the mental health conditions.

Previous research has also shown that depression and anxiety are associated with unhealthy behaviors that can lead to heart disease. For the new study, researchers wanted to learn more about the impact of exercise on heart failure risk -- when the heart can't pump blood properly -- in people with depression, anxiety, or both.

Researchers analyzed self-reported physical activity data from 48,673 participants in the Mass General Brigham Biobank. The median age of participants was 60. Then they determined who developed heart failure over a 10-year period, and compared participants who had depression or anxiety with those who did not have either mental health condition.

"We found that while physical activity very nicely reduces heart failure risk across the entire population, it had a substantially greater impact on heart failure risk among individuals with depression and anxiety, and this differential impact was relatively large," said the study's lead researcher, Abdulaziz Al-Hamam, M.D., a cardiovascular research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The findings were presented in November at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in Philadelphia. They and are considered preliminary until full results are published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The preliminary data found the effect of physical activity to have reduced heart-failure risk by 33 percent to 50 percentamong individuals with depression or anxiety, states a news release from the American Heart Association.

Dr. Al-Hamam stated that the results “underscore the link between physical and mental health and serve as a reminder that cardiologists should work more closely with mental health professionals.”

Major Review of Studies: Plant-based Diets Linked to Lower Risks of Heart Disease, Diabetes

Over the years, there's been growing evidence that substituting a diet of animal-based foods with plant-based foods is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other causes of early death. A comprehensive review of previous studies was undertaken to further evaluate the evidence.

The review, published in the journal BMC Medicine, analyzed the results from 37 earlier studies. The conclusion: “Our findings indicate that a shift from animal-based (e.g., red and processed meat, eggs, dairy, poultry, butter) to plant-based (e.g., nuts, legumes, whole grains, olive oil) foods is beneficially associated with cardiometabolic health and all-cause mortality,” the study’s authors state.

To dieticians and other healthcare professions, the results are not surprising.

The U.S. government’s dietary guidelines, also known as My Plate, focus on plant-based options. About half of the government’s My Plate is fruits and vegetables, while the other half consists of grains and protein. Overall, 75 percent of the plate has always been plant-based. The Mediterranean Diet — highly rated by dietitians — focuses on fruits and vegetables, but makes allowances for lean proteins from fish and poultry. Both plans strongly restrict red meat, overly processed meats and sugary drinks.

The new analysis of previous studies found numerous examples of the benefits of plant-based dieting.  A 27 percent reduction in the overall incidence of heart disease was noted when 50 grams (1.8 ounces) of processed meat per day was substituted with 28 grams to 50 grams (1 ounce to 1.8 ounces) of nuts per day. There was a 23 percent reduction when meat was replaced with the same amount of legumes. And a 22 percent reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes was linked with the substitution of 50 grams of processed meat per day with 10 grams to 28 grams of nuts per day.

Overall, the researchers estimated that replacing one serving per day of processed meats – such as hot dogs, deli meats or bacon -- with a serving of whole grains, nuts or beans was associated with a 23 to 36 percent lower risk of cardiovascular issues, including heart attack and stroke.

New Research Examines Whether Your Blood Pressure is Being Taken Properly

The proper way for someone to take your blood pressure, according to guidelines from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology, is to have your seated in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, your back supported and your arm with the blood pressure cuff supported at heart level.

New research indicates that even some healthcare professionals may be improperly having patients seated on an examining table, leaving their legs to dangle and their back and arm unsupported, when measuring blood pressure.  

"That's not conducive to taking blood pressure accurately," said researcher Randy Wexler, M.D., a primary care physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, who presented the new study in November at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions conference in Philadelphia.

In the study, 150 adults were randomly assigned to one of three groups, with one group having their blood pressure taken on a fixed-height exam table and another group having their reading taken in an exam chair with adjustable positioning.  A third group had both sets of readings taken in the exam chair.

For readings taken on the exam table, the average systolic (top number) blood pressure was 7 mmHg higher and the average diastolic (bottom number) reading was 4.5 mmHg higher than those taken seated in the chair, which followed guidelines on positioning. “The researchers concluded this difference was large enough to misclassify millions of people as having hypertension whose blood pressure was actually within the normal range,” states an American Heart Association news release on the study.

"We were not surprised there was a difference," Wexler said in a statement. "We were surprised at how much of a difference there was."

Patients should consult with their physician or healthcare provider about proper positioning for having their blood pressure taken.

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