Exercise Beneficial for Late-Life Major Depressive Disorder

Seniors using weights in a retirement home
Exercise is effective at reducing depressive symptoms in older adults, although antidepressants may show a faster therapeutic response.

The following article is part of conference coverage from the 2019 American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting (APA 2019) in San Francisco, CA. Psychiatry Advisor’s staff will be reporting breaking news associated with research conducted by leading experts in psychiatry. Check back for the latest news from APA 2019.

SAN FRANCISCO — The benefits of exercise as an intervention in reducing major depressive disorder (MDD) symptoms may have been underestimated in older adults, according to a study presented at the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting, held May 18-22, 2019, in San Francisco, California.

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Globally, between 2015 and 2020, the world’s population will almost double from 12% to 22%. Risk factors for depression with reduced mobility, declines in functional abilities, chronic pain, and other health problems are experienced more in older adults. With the estimated prevalence of depression being between 4.6% and 9.3% in older adults, and the health care costs, suicide risk, disability, and mortality resulting from cognitive and physical impairment, late-life depression is an important healthcare issue.

Most recent research has shown that antidepressant use along with moderate intensity aerobic exercise and intervention supervised by exercise professionals yields significant effects in MDD. To compare the effectiveness of exercise interventions and antidepressant use, a trial was conducted among older patients with MDD. In this 16-week trial, it was shown that exercise was just as effective at reducing depressive symptoms as antidepressant medication use, although antidepressants may show a faster initial therapeutic response.

Exercise interventions targeted at the most fit, least cognitively impaired patients who receive at-home care could effectively reduce depressive symptoms. However, there was no positive effect on depressive symptoms in older participants with poor physical health who attended fewer exercise sessions.

In conclusion, moderate activity level exercise interventions were shown to effectively reduce depressive symptoms in older people with MDD. Recent meta-analyses have also shown that any amount of physical activity, even just low levels of walking, is valuable in reducing the risk for depression.

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Salehuddin S, Arain FZ, Hossain A. Association of exercise and decreased rate of late life depression: a literature review. Poster presented at: American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting; May 18-22, 2019; San Francisco, CA. Abstract 75.