Posted on Jul 12, 2023, 1 p.m.
Unfortunately, the rate of depression is increasingly common among older adults which has significant risk factors for major chronic conditions such as cognitive decline, chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, and an increased risk of suicide and death. Research from experts at the University of Limerick and Trinity College Dublin published in the JAMA Network Open Journal indicates that even moderate daily physical activity can help to reduce the risks of depression.
Recent estimates suggest that depression causes over 5-10% of the burden of all diseases in Europe, and the economic cost of depression in America alone is over $210.5 billion annually, making identifying potentially easy and low-cost health and lifestyle interventions and solutions that can help to reduce the risk of depression a top priority.
Previous research has shown that moderate-vigorous physical activity was linked to benefits for depression. This study demonstrated that a physical activity/exercise dose equivalent to only 20 minutes a day for five days a week of moderate-intensity physical activity such as brisk walking was linked to less risk of depressive symptoms and less odds of major depression.
“However,” explained Dr. Eamon Laird, lead author on the paper and a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at UL, “there is no agreement on how much physical activity is protective for depression overall, or how this may vary among adults with disease.”
“For this work, we used 10 years of data from the Irish Longitudinal Study On Ageing which included information on depression, MVPA, and other key health-related variables such as disease, lifestyle factors, and socio-economic status. We sought to identify the lowest dose of MVPA associated with protection against Major Depression and depressive symptoms and the extent to which this varied based on the presence of chronic disease,” added Dr. Laird.
The researchers reported that a daily dose of physical activity equivalent to 20 minutes for five days a week was associated with a 16% lower rate of depressive symptoms and 43% lower odds of major depression. Doses equivalent to 30 minutes a day were associated with a 7% lower risk of depressive symptoms and 44% lower odds of major depression. Doses of 60 minutes were associated with a 16% lower risk of depressive symptoms and 41% lower odds of major depression. Doses equivalent to 120 minutes a day were associated with a 23% lower risk of depressive symptoms and 49% lower odds of major depression.
Even after controlling for relevant health-related factors, the findings remained the same, and the findings were also materially the same for older adults with and without a chronic illness, according to the researchers.
“This study is very relevant given the high prevalence of depression in our increasing older adult population. Physical activity at lower doses than World Health Organization recommendations for overall health may offer protection against depressive symptoms and Major Depression - at minimum, try to engage in 20 minutes a day of moderate-intensity activity at least five days per week, with more benefits seen at higher doses,” said Dr. Laird. “Try and build it into a routine with hobbies or activities you enjoy and trying to do it with others as social interactions, particularly with activity can also have mental health benefits. Remember that it is one component and that nutrition and a healthy lifestyle will also give additive benefits in addition to the physical activity.”
“The current findings have significant implications in highlighting that significant antidepressant benefits appear to be associated with doses of physical activity that are lower than current World Health Organization recommendations for overall health, though greater doses were associated with stronger protection,” added Dr. Matthew Herring, a Senior Lecturer and Investigator in the Physical Activity for Health Research Centre at UL and Principal Investigator of this HRB-funded research.“We are clearly not advocating for lower physical activity among the older adult population, but findings suggest that the largest improvements in protection against depression among older adults may be made by engaging inactive older adults in physical activity even at doses below those recommended for overall health.”
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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