Study: Exercise Treats Elderly Depression

ByABC News
September 21, 2000, 4:00 PM

N E W   Y O R K, Sept. 21 -- Exercising three times a week could be more effective than medication in relieving the symptoms of major depression in elderly people and may also decrease the chances that the depression will return over time.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham N.C., studied 156 majorly depressed patients 50 and older and found that after 16 weeks, those who exercised showed significant improvement compared to those who either took medication alone or those who combined the therapies. In a six-month follow-up study, Duke psychologists found that depression returned in only 8 percent of the patients in the exercise group, versus 38 percent for the drug-only group and 31 percent for the drug and exercise combined group.

Study participants in the exercise group engaged in one half-hour of brisk walking three times a week.

The main conclusion is that maintaining an exercise program can significantly help in reducing depression, says the studys lead researcher, Duke psychologist James Blumenthal, whose work is published in the current issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. He believes this is the first study that actually looks at exercise as a treatment for depression for any age group, but says the results, just confirm what a lot of people think exercise can do anyway.

Number One Anti-Aging Medicine

If exercise could be put in a pill it would be the number one anti-aging medicine and the number one anti-depression medicine, agrees Dr. Robert N. Butler, President of the International Longevity Center, at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York City. Its also cheap, and it avoids problems such as the side-effects of medication.

Depression is prevalent for the elderly. A recent report by the National Institute of Mental Health called depression in the elderly widespread and a serious public health concern. Surveys suggest more than 15 percent of the elderly population experiences depression at some point, while an additional 25 percent of elderly individuals have periods of persistent sadness that last two weeks or longer.