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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Depression and Heart Disease

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 8th 2007

The University of Indiana released the results of a research study that again demonstrate the powerful relationship between our moods and our health. Past studies showed the debilitating effects of anger on our bodies. Now the evidence shows that depression leads to clogged arteries and heart disease.

What is not certain is why depression leads to heart disease. It is also not known whether or not anti depressant medications can reduce the likelihood of people with depression developing heart disease.

However, on important speculation about the relationship between depression and heart disease is that those who are depressed lead the types of passive life styles that lend themselves to clogged arteries. It's a vicious cycle in which depression causes people to stay at home and avoid exercise and this lack of exercise sets up the conditions that cause cardio vascular disease. It’s the old story that people need to exercise to strengthen their hearts but they do not exercise because they are depressed and, yet, would feel less depressed if they did exercise.

So, what do we do with this new information? There is no question that exercise is both physically and mentally healthy for all of us. Yet, those who are depressed either stop their exercise programs or never get involved. It is important to encourage those who are depressed to go and exercise. Yet, they are most likely to agree and simply continued to avoid.

One thought that I had in relation to this issue is that the problem of depression, disease and exercise again demonstrates the fact that mental health is not simply a matter of taking medication. Do not misunderstand. I am not suggesting that anti depressants are not important but I am stating that psychotherapy is an absolute necessity in conjunction with medication. The fact is that talking therapy helps, whether that talking occurs in the context of cognitive behavioral therapy or the traditional psychodynamic therapy. It is even silly to suggest that there is no talking in CBT. In CBT the relationship between therapist and patient is just as important as in the traditional therapies. Therefore, the issue of exercise, health, passivity and learned helplessness are discussed in all psychotherapies. I like CBT because it gives the patient control over the treatment and treatment continues everyday not only when their office visits.

I want to urge all of our readers to exercise, whether depressed or not, because it is healthy and relieves stress. If you have any type of physical condition or are under the care of a doctor then get clearance from your physician to get involved in exercising. Even brisk daily walks are helpful.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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