The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


THE CONNECTION BETWEEN HEART HEALTH AND BRAIN HEALTH: Study shows fitness protects against depression and heart disease death in later life

DALLAS, TX (June 27, 2018) – We know that regular exercise is good for a healthy heart. However, in those suffering from depression, it may also lower risk of death from heart disease.  

New research from The Cooper Institute, in collaboration with UT Southwestern Medical Center, shows a strong relationship between fitness, depression and death from heart disease. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, shows that individuals with higher fitness in middle age have lower risk of depression and death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) decades later.

"These new insights illustrate the importance of fitness to maintain both physical and psychological health as we age," said Dr. Benjamin Willis, Director of Epidemiology at The Cooper Institute and lead author of the study. “Now we know that the long-term benefits and the connection between mind-body wellness are more significant than we thought.  We hope our study will highlight the role of fitness and physical activity in early prevention efforts by physicians in promoting healthy aging.”

Previous studies have shown the immediate psychological benefits of exercise including increased energy and improved mental well-being.  Many longer term benefits of exercise are well-established such as lower risk of death, heart failure, and a number of health conditions.  The surprising long-term benefits related to mood and subsequent heart disease death were less clear until now.

“There are clear links between fitness, heart health and brain health,” said Dr. Willis. “It’s never too late to get off the couch to improve fitness at any age.”

The results demonstrate that aerobic fitness is important to the long-term prevention of both depression and CVD death. Regular exercise may also prevent cognitive decline as we age, as shown in two recent studies by The Cooper Institute. Some examples of aerobic exercise include:

“Maintaining a healthy dose of exercise is difficult, but it can be done. It just requires more effort and addressing unique barriers to regular exercise,” says Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, co-author of the study and director of the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care, part of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute at UT Southwestern

The research, which is part of the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, included nearly 18,000 participants who had their cardiorespiratory fitness measured at midlife around age 50. Using Medicare administrative data, researchers examined the correlations between fitness, depression, and CVD deaths. The findings revealed that compared to low fitness, participants who demonstrated a high level of fitness in midlife had the following benefits in later life:

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease is still the number one cause of death in the United States, killing nearly 1 in 3 Americans each year – more than all forms of cancer combined. Both the AHA and the American Psychological Association (APA) have emphasized the need for prevention.  Although other life events and socioeconomic factors can contribute to depression, physical fitness is an easily modifiable risk factor.

Established in 1970, The Cooper Institute is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting life-long health and wellness worldwide through research and education. Founded by Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, The Cooper Institute translates the latest scientific findings into proactive solutions that improve population health. Key areas of focus are research, adult education, and youth programs. Through these initiatives, The Cooper Institute helps people lead better, longer lives now and Well. Into the Future. To learn more, visit
Developed in 1970, the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study is an ongoing, open research study used to improve public health. Owned and operated by The Cooper Institute, it contains nearly 300,000 patient records and is one of the world's most extensive studies relating fitness to overall wellbeing. The study allows The Cooper Institute to uncover predictors of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, Alzheimer's, osteoarthritis, metabolic syndrome, and depression. To learn more, visit

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 22 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 16 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 15 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The faculty of more than 2,700 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in about 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, 600,000 emergency room cases, and oversee approximately 2.2 million outpatient visits a year. To learn more, visit