Research suggests that as many as 14% of males and 18% of females over age 55 are depressed. It has been documented that exercise can alleviate symptoms of depression in younger adults and even compete with the effects of antidepressant medication or psychotherapy in terms of effectiveness, but unfortunately there is very little research on the effects of exercise and depression in older adults.
What is fair to say is that exercise has a mood-elevating effect in most adults, whatever their age, even if it’s not the cure for depression in the elderly. Ask anyone who exercises, no matter what their age, and they will report what used to be called a ‘feel-good’ phenomenon after exercise. Whether it’s from getting the heart beating or the blood pumping, or invigorating brain cells, or simply getting out in the fresh air, a good dose of exercise typically improves mood.
The American College of Sports Medicine and American Heart Association published guidelines for physical activity in older adults. Here is a summary of the recommendations:
Aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, dancing, biking, swimming, etc.): To promote and maintain health, older adults need moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes five days each week or vigorous intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 20 minutes three days each week.
Resistance exercise (weight lifting): To promote and maintain health and physical independence, older adults will benefit from performing activities that maintain or increase muscular strength and endurance for a minimum of 2 days each week. It is recommended that 8-10 exercises be performed on two or more nonconsecutive days per week using the major muscle groups.
Flexibility exercise: To maintain the flexibility necessary for regular physical activity and daily life, older adults should perform activities that maintain or increase flexibility at least two days each week for at least 10 minutes each day.
Balance exercise: To reduce risk of injury from falls, older adults with substantial risk of falls (for example, with frequent falls or mobility problems) should perform exercises that maintain or improve balance.
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