Run for Your Life

Poor cardiovascular fitness at 18 linked to suicide attempts in men later in life

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It's difficult to list all the ways daily physical activity can improve your health. Having a good level of fitness can even relate to the quality of your mental health.

A recent study found that men who had poor physical fitness at the age of 18 may be at a higher risk for attempting suicide throughout their lifetime.

But physical fitness is not something you are born with. As the authors noted, "cardiovascular performance is possible to improve."

"Exercise 30 minutes every day."

The study, led by Maria Åberg, MD, PhD, of the Center for Brain Repair and Rehabilitation at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, aimed to find out whether cardiovascular fitness had any relationship to risk for suicide attempts.

The researchers reviewed the cardiovascular fitness test results of 1.1 million men who had joined the Swedish army between 1968 and 2005.

The men were all 18 years old when they joined and had not at that time been diagnosed with mental illness. They all underwent a cycling test and various cognitive performance (thinking) tests when they joined.

They were tracked for up to 42 years (depending on the year when they joined) to see whether they attempted and/or succeeded at suicide.

The researchers calculated that approximately one out of every 12,563 men attempted suicide.

Separately from that calculation, 4,814 of the men successfully committed suicide on their first attempt.

When the researchers excluded the men who had received medical care for depression, the risk changed slightly, dropping from a 79 percent greater risk to a 76 percent greater risk.

The men who performed poorly on both the cardiovascular and the cognitive tests had a suicide attempt risk more than five times greater than the other men.

"Lower cardiovascular fitness at age 18 years was, after adjustment for a number of potential confounders, associated with an increased risk of attempt/death by suicide in adulthood," the researchers wrote.

"It remains to be clarified whether interventions designed to improve fitness in teens can influence the risk of suicidal behavior later in life," they wrote.

These findings are unsurprising to those who promote physical fitness.

"The research on the benefits of fitness is deep and broad," said Jack Newman, CEO of Austin Tennis Academy and a dailyRx expert. "This study shows a clear benefit of cardiovascular fitness.

Cardiovascular fitness does not have to mean jogging every day. A wide range of activities can build physical fitness.

"At the Austin Tennis Academy, we are training young men and women both on and off the court to have excellent levels of fitness in the hopes of high performance," Newman said.

"But the real benefit of lifelong fitness habits is, as this study shows, clearly much more important than winning a trophy or earning a ranking," he said.

This study was published in the June issue of Psychological Medicine.

The research was funded by the Märtha Lundqvists Stiftelse, the Swedish Research Council for Worklife and Social Science (FAS), the Swedish Research Council and the Swedish government under the LUA/ALF agreement for biomedical research. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
June 27, 2013
Last Updated:
September 6, 2013