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Chronic diseases, exercise and longer life

Exercise increases the life expectancy of people with multiple health conditions but does not have same benefit in those with depression, according to research by the University of Leicester.

Previous research studies have already established the benefits of exercise in increasing life expectancy. This study is believed to be the first of its kind to investigate the impact on the survival of people with two or more long-term health conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease (CVD) combined with depression.

The study was funded by the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) East Midlands and supported by the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).

A research team from the University of Leicester explored this topic because people with multiple health conditions have a higher prevalence of depression, and although this link is well recognised, it is often overlooked as single diseases are given more priority.

The team analysed data from the UK Biobank from almost 500,000 participants recruited between 2006 and 2010. They found participants with diabetes, CVD and depression had the largest reduction in life expectancy when compared to those with none of these diseases.

However, the research team also found being physically active (meeting the recommended levels of 150 minutes moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week, or a combination of both) was associated with an increase in life expectancy of 2.3 years compared to being inactive in participants with diabetes at age 45. Life expectancy also increased 2.3 years for those with CVD; 2.2 years for diabetes and CVD; and 1.6 years for those with no disease. But, the associations were no longer significant in participants with depression alone or depression combined with cardiometabolic conditions, the researchers reported. A similar pattern was found at 65 years.

Researcher Yogini Chudasama, a PhD Student in Epidemiology, said: “While changing lifestyle behaviours is not easy for those dealing with diabetes and CVD, moderate to vigorous intensity leisure-time physical activity could provide a safe opportunity to engage in enjoyable, sociable, and low-cost therapy, which may positively influence patients.

“For those dealing with depression, or depression combined with cardiometabolic multimorbidity, further research is required.”

Professor Kamlesh Khunti, who is Director of ARC East Midlands and is also a Professor of Primary Care, Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester and National ARC Lead for the Multimorbidity Theme, said: “Given the rising challenges of multimorbidity, our study has important implications for the public health and for the future research in people with both physical and mental health illnesses.”

ARC East Midlands is hosted by Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and works in collaboration with the East Midlands Academic Health Science Network. It has bases at University of Nottingham and University of Leicester.