Talk Therapy Can Actually Improve Heart Health, According To New Study

In 2019, nearly 10% of American adults used counseling or talk therapy as a treatment modality for mental health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Talk therapy, also commonly referred to as psychotherapy, can be used as an alternative to or in conjunction with medication in the treatment of common mental health disorders like anxiety and depression (per National Institute of Mental Health).

While WebMD points out that talk therapy alone may not be enough to treat severe cases of mental illness, it is touted as an excellent tool to help people identify everyday stressors and find healthy ways to navigate life's difficult emotions, with the help of a trained medical professional. Nearly 75% of people who undergo talk therapy notice that their condition shows marked improvement after treatment (per the American Psychiatric Association). But an improved sense of well-being may not be the only health benefit talk therapy can provide. A new study published last week in the European Heart Journal suggests that psychotherapy may also have the ability to improve heart health.

The study analyzed data from nearly 637,000 people who participated in psychotherapy services provided by the United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS) between 2012 and 2020. According to the study, those who saw an improvement in their depressive symptoms after talk therapy also experienced a 12% decrease in the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD).

How psychotherapy can impact heart health

CVD is a broad term used to describe a wide range of disorders that affect the heart and blood vessels (per World Health Organization). Despite CVD being the number one cause of death across the globe, WHO points out that most cardiovascular diseases are preventable with proper nutrition and exercise.

While the study's lead author, Celine El Baou, was quick to point out that their findings do not point to a causal effect, she reveals that the study is the first to establish such a link (per U.S. News & World Report). Researchers suggest that the reduced risk of CVD may be credited to people's tendency to eat better and exercise more as their depression symptoms improve.

The findings suggest that those whose depression was improved by psychotherapy experienced a decreased risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and all-cause mortality. What's more, the benefits were greater for people under 60, who saw a 15% decrease in the risk of heart disease and a 22% decrease in the risk of all-cause premature death. People over 60 still saw some improvement, though, with their risk of heart disease lowered by 5% and the risk of all-cause premature death decreased by 14%.