A new study has found that as little as 20 minutes per day of moderate exercise, five days a weeks, can reduce the risk of depression in people aged over 50 with conditions such as diabetes or chronic pain.
According to Diabetes UK people with diabetes are at twice as high a risk of depression. A 2017 study also found that heart disease patients who develop depression following their diagnosis were twice as likely to succumb to the condition. According to another 2017 study, up to 85% people with chronic pain suffer from severe depression.
According to Eamon Liard, the lead author of the study and a researcher from the Physical Activity for Health Research Centre of the University of Limerick, Ireland, people without chronic diseases in the study needed to exercise moderately to vigorously for two hours each day in order to improve their depressive symptoms.
Moderate physical exercise is defined as any activity that makes it difficult to talk while performing it. Some examples are brisk walking or bicycling. Others include dancing, playing tennis, running up and down the stairs, or even dancing. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if the intensity of the exercise is increased, such as by jogging, running or playing tennis, the amount of time spent exercising will be reduced.
Laird stated that the study was unique in the fact that it was the first longitudinal cohort with chronic diseases and without to determine the minimum dose required to make a difference.
He added that while he does not advocate lower activity levels for any population, these findings show that doses even lower than those recommended can protect mental health in older adults over time. These doses are more feasible for older adults who may have difficulty engaging in physical activity.
Study of a 10-year period
The study was published in JAMA Network Open on Monday. It followed over 4,000 Irish adults, with an average age 61, for 10 years. Participants in the Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging were evaluated every 2 years. The participants were evaluated every two years. They were asked questions about their exercise and physical activity levels, and they took tests to measure the severity of their depressive symptoms.
In an email, Laird stated that 'Examples from the questionnaire included the following: I had difficulty keeping my mind focused on what I was trying to do; my sleep was restless; and I felt like I couldn't shake off the depression even with help from family and friends'.
Major depression was also given to people who suffered from a major depressive disorder in the last 12 months. A major depressive episode is a two-week period in which a person experiences fatigue, sadness, hopelessness, sleep problems, weight loss or gain, thoughts of suicide, and a lack of interest in their activities.
The study concluded that the more exercise people do, the better. The study found that people who moderately exercised 20 minutes per day, five times a week had 16% less depressive symptoms, and 43% less risk of major depression, compared to those who didn't exercise.
According to the study, those who exercised for two hours a day saw the greatest benefits, as they experienced a 23% decrease in depressive symptoms, and a risk of major depression was reduced by 49%.
Larid stated that the higher the dose of physical activity, the greater mental health benefits in depression.
Unfortunately, over the course of 10 years the rate of depression in the group increased, going from a mean of 8% to an average of 11%, and the use of antidepressants went up from 6% to about 10%. Exercise rates also decreased by about 10% over the course of the study.
It's not a surprise
Larid noted that the study's findings were not unexpected, pointing to extensive research in the past which shows a strong correlation between exercise and depression reduction. In 2022, a systematic review and meta analysis found that brisk walking just 2.5 hours per week reduced depressive symptoms by 25 percent. In the same study, walking half as much reduced depression risk by 18%.
A large review published in Feburary found that physical activity is 1.5 times as effective at reducing anxiety, stress and mild to moderate symptoms of depression, compared with antidepressant medication or cognitive behavioral therapy, considered the gold standard treatment.
Exercise is good for your health in more ways than one. Exercise keeps the body in top shape and allows it to function more efficiently.
In an earlier interview, Dr. Andrew Freeman of National Jewish Health, Denver, Colorado's director of cardiovascular preventive and wellness, said that physical activity was 'absolutely magnificent'.
He added: 'If you combine that with eating more plants, de-stressing and sleeping enough, that's the magic recipe.' It's like the fountain of youthfulness, if you want to call it that.