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Depression and Heart Health

Children working out at home with mum

How managing depression can benefit your heart health

When we think of behaviors that promote a healthy heart, we often think of exercise and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. While healthy lifestyle behaviors are important, a healthy mind also plays a role in our heart health.

Depression and heart health: What’s the connection?

There are many studies that link depression and heart health together. A 2019 study found that depression is associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease (CAD). This increased risk is likely due to changes in brain areas involved in memory and the stress response [1].

The link between depression and heart disease works both ways. Not only does depression raise the likelihood of having a cardiac event (such as a heart attack), but persons who have already experienced one, such as a heart attack, are also more likely than the general population to develop depression. In one study, 20 percent of patients had depression three months after having a heart attack [2]. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the prevalence of depression among all adults in the U.S. in 2020 was 8.4 percent [3].

In 2017, research by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute showed that adults with depressive symptoms or a depressive disorder have a 64 percent greater risk of developing CAD than the general population, and CAD patients with depression are 59 percent more likely to have a future adverse cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or cardiac death [4].

Steps to treat both your heart and mental health

Taking steps to manage our mood is important to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve outcomes for those who have had a cardiac event. Fortunately, some of the things we do for our heart health can also help maintain our mental health. Some things you can do for your heart health and your mental health are listed below.


Research shows that aerobic exercises are proven to reduce anxiety and depression, especially when performed 15 to 30 minutes at least three times per week for 10 weeks or longer [5].

Regular physical activity also plays a major role in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (CVD) [6].

Eat healthy

The foods we eat can increase or decrease our risk of heart disease and depression. A 2017 meta-analysis showed that a diet consisting of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, and low-fat dairy was associated with a decreased risk of depression [7]. These same foods are part of a heart healthy diet. 

Prioritize your sleep

Poor sleep can increase a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease, depression, and other chronic conditions. Make sleep a priority by practicing good sleep hygiene. Avoid nicotine and caffeine in the evening, stick to a sleep schedule, and limit screen time before bed.  

UPMC Health Plan is available to support members with behavioral health issues. To find out what supports and services are available, visit


1. Brain mechanisms of stress and depression in coronary artery disease – PubMed (

2.  Depression following myocardial infarction–an overseen complication with prognostic importance – PubMed (

3.  NIMH » Major Depression (

4. Heart disease and depression: A two-way relationship | NHLBI, NIH

5. Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood | Request PDF (

6. The role of physical activity in individuals with cardiovascular risk factors: an opinion paper from Italian Society of Cardiology-Emilia Romagna-Marche and SIC-Sport – PubMed (

7. Dietary patterns and depression risk: A meta-analysis – ScienceDirect