Can Exercise Conquer Depression in Older Adults?

Growing old involves a variety of life stressors that can result in depression, but getting active may be the answer. A study led by Dr. Holly Blake at the University of Nottingham found that both aerobic exercise and resistance training could improve mood in older people with depression.

Symptoms of depression in older people are often overlooked and untreated. Increased fatigue, irritability, and confusion caused by depression may appear to be a “normal” response to the challenges of aging. However, depression is never a normal part of life at any age. The good news is that there are treatments that can help older people feel better.

The study included 641 participants, 80% of whom were over 60 years old. All had been diagnosed with depression, and screening excluded individuals with dementia. Participants were assigned to a control group or to a group who exercised for at least 20 minutes three times a week. Follow up occurred immediately after treatment, 3-12 months afterwards, and more than a year later.

Those who exercised experienced a significant reduction in depressive symptoms. Additionally, exercisers were more likely to achieve a complete remission from depression at 12 months. Because exercise occurred in a group format, however, it’s possible that a social or group effect influenced results. The researchers say more studies are needed to measure the effectiveness of different types of exercise and their long-term impact on depression.

It’s difficult to start exercising when you just feel like hiding under the covers, or when you’re stuck in a sedentary routine. Set some realistic goals with your doctor to begin with. The key to staying active is finding something physical you enjoy doing. You don’t have to be a marathon runner; just walking with a grandchild or doing a little gardening can be beneficial.

For other healthy aging strategies, visit the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry’s page.

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