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Teens who struggle with depression and anxiety may be more likely to have a heart attack later in life, study finds

The study looks at the long-term effects of two serious mental health conditions

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As the prevalence of anxiety and depression among teens trends upwards, experts continue to explore the effects associated with such mental health struggles. 

Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the European Society of Cardiology has found that teens who struggle with anxiety and depression could be at an increased risk of heart attack when they reach middle age. 

“Be vigilant and look for signs of stress, depression, or anxiety that is beyond the normal teenage angst: seek help if there seems to be a persistent problem (telephone helplines may be particularly helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic),” said researcher Dr. Cecilia Bergh. “If a healthy lifestyle is encouraged as early as possible in childhood and adolescence it is more likely to persist into adulthood and improve long-term health.” 

Identifying potential health concerns

The researchers followed over 238,000 men from adolescence through middle age, assessing their physical and mental health at both the start and conclusion of the study. They evaluated participants’ fitness levels, interviewed them about their personalities and stress levels, and also did a thorough medical examination. 

Over 35,000 participants were diagnosed with anxiety or depression at the start of the study, and the researchers learned that these diagnoses contributed to the participants’ health over the long-term. By the middle-age check-up, which occurred when the participants were in their late 50s, the risk of heart attack was 20 percent higher for participants who struggled with mental health during their teen years. 

The researchers identified poor physical activity levels during the participants’ teen years as one of the primary factors involved in the heightened risk of heart attack. While not a cure-all for mental health or heart attack prevention, following an exercise routine can be incredibly beneficial for both physical and mental health. 

“Better fitness in adolescence is likely to help protect against later heart disease, particularly if people stay fit as they age,” said Dr. Bergh. “Physical activity may also alleviate some of the negative consequences of stress. This is relevant to all adolescents, but those with poorer well-being could benefit from additional support to encourage exercise and to develop strategies to deal with stress.” 

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