Young adults who feel down or depressed are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and have poor heart health, according to a new study.

The researchers analyzed data from more than a half million people between the ages of 18 and 49. Their findings add to a growing body of evidence connecting cardiovascular disease (CVD) with depression among young and middle-aged adults, and suggest the relationship between the two could begin in early adulthood.

The study in the Journal of the American Heart Association also found that young adults who self-reported feeling depressed or having poor mental health days had higher rates of heart attacks, strokes, and risk factors for heart disease compared with their peers without mental health issues.

“When you’re stressed, anxious, or depressed, you may feel overwhelmed, and your heart rate and blood pressure rises. It’s also common that feeling down could lead to making poor lifestyle choices like smoking, drinking alcohol, sleeping less, and not being physically active—all adverse conditions that negativity impact your heart,” says Garima Sharma, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine and senior author of the study.

Sharma and her colleagues looked at data from 593,616 adults who participated in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a self-reported, nationally representative survey conducted between 2017 and 2020.

The survey included questions about whether they have ever been told they have a depressive disorder, how many days they experienced poor mental health in the past month (0 days, 1–13 days, or 14–30 days), whether they had experienced a heart attack, stroke, or chest pain, and if they had cardiovascular disease risk factors.

Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight/obese, smoking, diabetes, and poor physical activity and diet. People who had two or more of these risk factors were considered to have suboptimal cardiovascular health.

One in five adults self-reported having depression or frequently feeling low, with the study noting that there could have been higher rates during the last year of the study, which was the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the full article about depressed young adults by Caslon Hatch-Johns at Futurity.