Harvard Health Letter

Depression and obesity: Confirming the link

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Start small. Find a walking buddy.

Small effort can lead to big changes.

Being overweight is a risk factor for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and even certain kinds of cancer. Now a study from France that followed more than 9,000 older adults for 10 years confirms that obesity is also associated with depression. "Yes, obesity and depression are linked. And the causation probably goes in both directions," says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Miller explains that depression and obesity feed each other. "Obesity affects the parts of the brain that regulate your mood. When you're depressed, low energy and motivation can translate into less activity and exercise. The result may be weight gain," he says. "If both problems have a hold on you, it's hard to break their grip." Excess weight has adverse effects on the health of your heart, knees, and hips.

But even a tiny change may alter the dynamics of your situation, says Dr. Miller. "Few people can start a crash diet and a vigorous exercise program and make it last. Start small. Walk for 15 minutes. Cut out foods you can do without. Find a buddy to join you in making these changes. The important point is to do something you can sustain." If you do lose weight, there's a good chance you'll begin to feel better. "When people lose weight they feel proud, they have more energy, they are more mentally fit, and their mood improves," says Dr. Miller.

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