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Cardiovascular fitness in early adulthood and future suicidal behaviour in men followed for up to 42 years

  • M. A. I. Åberg (a1) (a2), J. Nyberg (a1), K. Torén (a3), A. Sörberg (a4), H. G. Kuhn (a1) and M. Waern (a5)...

Cardiovascular fitness influences many aspects of brain function. However, the relationship between cardiovascular fitness and suicidal behaviour is unknown. Therefore, we aimed to determine whether cardiovascular fitness at age 18 years is associated with future risk of suicide attempt/death.


We performed a population-based Swedish longitudinal cohort study of male conscripts with no previous or ongoing mental illness (n = 1 136 527). The conscription examination, which took place during 1968–2005, included the cycle ergonometric test and tests of cognitive performance. Future risk of suicide attempt/death over a 5- to 42-year follow-up period was calculated with Cox proportional hazards models controlling for several confounders including familial factors.


At least one suicide attempt was recorded for 12 563 men. Death by suicide without a prior attempt was recorded in 4814 additional individuals. In fully adjusted models low cardiovascular fitness was associated with increased risk for future attempt/death by suicide [hazard ratio (HR) 1.79, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.64–1.94]. The HR changed only marginally after exclusion of persons who received in-patient care for depression (HR 1.76, 95% CI 1.61–1.94). Poor performance on both the cardiovascular fitness and cognitive tests was associated with a fivefold increased risk of suicide attempt or suicide death (HR 5.46, 95% CI 4.78–6.24).


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. It remains to be clarified whether interventions designed to improve fitness in teens can influence the risk of suicidal behaviour later in life.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: M. Waern, Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry, Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Blå Stråket 15, Gothenburg, Sweden. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
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