After Heart Surgery, Physical Inactivity Linked With Depression Risk

If you've just undergone heart surgery, the best thing you can do for your mental health may be to get moving.

A new study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology shows an association between physical inactivity after cardiac surgery and increased likelihood of developing depression -- a known risk factor for heart complications.

However, the researchers from the University of Manitoba and St. Boniface General Hospital were quick to note that the study only showed an association between depression and physical inactivity after cardiac surgery -- it did not say whether inactivity led to depression, or if depression then spurred inactivity.

The new study is based on data from 436 patients who were undergoing cardiac surgery. Their depression levels and physical activity were analyzed before their surgery, right after they were discharged from the hospital, and three months and six months after their surgeries.

Researchers found that 23 percent of the patients were depressed before the surgery, 37 percent were depressed right after being discharged, 21 percent were depressed three months out from the surgery and 23 percent were depressed six months out from the surgery.

Being physically inactive before the surgery was associated with a doubled risk of depressive symptoms before undergoing surgery, researchers found. In addition, being physically inactive was associated with experiencing depression symptoms six months after receiving the surgery.

Researchers also found that more than half -- 58 percent -- of people who were considered "at risk" for depression before undergoing the surgery went on to develop clinical depression after the surgery. Meanwhile, just 28 percent of people who were considered "depression naive" before the surgery went on to develop clinical depression.

Stressful events were also found to be associated with development of depression post-surgery, researchers said.

In addition, people who were not depressed before undergoing surgery but who went on to develop depressive symptoms three to six months after surgery, were more likely to decrease physical activity compared with people who did not go on to develop depression.