We hear it again and again — exercise is good for you. But now researchers have discovered something more; that exercise is good not only for your body but also for your mind. And for the 6 million Americans age 65 and older who suffer from late-life depression, research shows that exercise can be as effective as other, more traditional treatments.
Growing old brings with it changes that can lead to depression. Retirement and the feeling of a lost purpose in life, the death of loved ones, increased isolation, and medical problems can all prevent seniors from enjoying life. But most seniors who suffer from depression are never diagnosed as those who love and interact with them may see their depression as a normal part of aging. And only 10% of those 65 and older who are diagnosed with depression receive any treatment at all. The typical treatment for depression is anti-depressant medication and/or psychological therapy. However, anti-depressants have side-effects and some people prefer not to receive, or may not have access to psychological therapies.
Recent studies have now shown that physical exercise can also be an effective treatment for depression in the elderly. On September 1, 2014, ABC News posted a story on the recent findings of researchers at Duke University Medical Center. “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,” the story states. “The main conclusion is that maintaining an exercise program can significantly help in reducing depression,” says the study’s lead researcher, Duke psychologist James Blumenthal.
“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. “It’s also cheap, and it avoids problems such as the side-effects of medication.”
Even the American Psychological Association, an organization that promotes the benefits of psychotherapy agrees. In their article, Exercise Helps Keep Your Psyche Fit, the author writes, “Exercise is an effective, cost-effective treatment for depression and may help in the treatment of other mental disorders.” The article continues, “Although exercise significantly decreased depression across all age categories, the older people were, the greater the decrease in depression with exercise.”