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By On December 20th, 2018

Anxiety and depression may be as bad for your body as smoking or obesity

Image Source: U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Timothy Taylor

Anxiety and depression take a toll on your life, relationships, and overall well-being, but a new study suggests they may also have a serious impact on your actual body.

According to findings released by the University of California San Francisco Department of Psychiatry and the San Francisco VA Medical Center people living with anxiety or depression face similar risks for conditions like heart disease as the risks seen in smokers or those who are obese.

In the study, published in the journal Health Psychology, a team of researchers evaluated health data collected from over 15,000 adults over a four-year period as part of the Health and Retirement Study – a large US study focusing on the health of older adults.

Among those included in the study, 16% were diagnosed with high levels of anxiety and depression, 31% were obese, and 14% were smokers.

Based on the data, the researchers found that those living with anxiety and depression faced a 65% increased risk of a heart condition, 64% increased risk of stroke, 50% higher risk for high blood pressure, and 87% more likely to experience arthritis.

“These increased odds are similar to those of participants who are smokers or are obese,” said senior study author Aoife O’Donovan, Ph.D. “However, for arthritis, high anxiety and depression seem to confer higher risks than smoking and obesity.”

The results also indicated a strong link between depression or anxiety and conditions like headache, back pain, upset stomach, and shortness of breath. For instance, headaches occurred 161% more often among those with higher levels of depression and anxiety compared to no increase among smokers or the obese.

Notably, the study also found that there was no link between depression and anxiety with the development of cancer.

“Our findings are in line with a lot of other studies showing that psychological distress is not a strong predictor of many types of cancer,” O’Donovan said. “On top of highlighting that mental health matters for a whole host of medical illnesses, it is important that we promote these null findings. We need to stop attributing cancer diagnoses to histories of stress, depression and anxiety.”

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