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Study Says Physical Exercise Not Effective in Treating Depression in Elderly


New research conducted in the United Kingdom suggests that physical exercise is not efficacious in lowering depression levels in elderly nursing home residents. This finding contradicts past studies that have been done among normal populations showing that exercise is as effective as antidepressants in lowering or eliminating depression among participants.

Exercise is considered low-risk and effective for improving mental health. For this study, “group exercise sessions” were conducted in order to attempt to reduce depression in the weak and sometimes frail elderly men and women.

More than 1,000 elderly folks were from 78 care homes were included in the study. Nearly half of those recruited for the study suffered from depression. The researcher made an intervention, meaning they were really trying to help these folks. They were well-received by the group and were “popular” among the residents. But they say that even after leading the groups in physical exercise there was no change in their mental health statuses or their quality of life.

Dr. Martin Underwood, who led the study, said, “We are disappointed that this exercise intervention had no effect on the serious problem of depression with the care home residents.”

He suggested that antidepressants would be more effective for severely depressed patients, while social engagement and other stimulation are also promising. However, more research is still needed to determine the effectiveness of these activities in reducing depression among the elderly nursing home patients.

The results of this study are limited in scope and application because they are limited to nursing home residents/patients. Elderly folks who live independently, at home with or without in-home care or with a family member should be excluded from the conclusion that exercise is not effective in treating depression. The participants of this study may be unhappy with their living conditions and/or unhappy with being in a nursing home at all. They may be there against their will or because they have to be.

As a result, feelings of neglect, boredom or abandonment may be stronger than symptoms of clinical depression. These negative feelings may show up in the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) scores because the desperate elderly are simply trying to communicate dissatisfaction.

I believe that this study lacks some details as published. For example, the exercise modalities do are not specified in the study. Also, it does not mention if the exercise was performed in a natural environment, such as the outdoors. Past studies have shown the benefits of sunlight on depressive symptoms. I suspect the exercise courses, which are unspecified in duration, were conducted indoors.

The fact that the authors of the study failed to specify the duration raises some questions. I suspect that if the duration was too short, the benefits from the exercise would be limited or eliminated altogether. Also, if the intensity was too low the results may be compromised.

Another aspect of the study that I find questionable is the fact that less than half of the participants in the study were considered depressed to begin with. It seems that would significantly skew the results of the study as treating depression in the non-depressed is rather absurd. That is like treating someone for the flu or another disease even though he or she is already healthy.

Simply put, I believe that more and higher quality research is needed in this area. For example, researchers should enroll only participants who are depressed to begin with. Exercise sessions should be done outdoors with varying degrees of intensity and duration. Also, the groups should be screened for dissatisfaction with special attention given to the areas above.

I am a strong advocate of physical exercise not only for reducing or eliminating depression but also for improving general health. I am concerned that studies like this, which seem incomplete, will discourage something  that ought not be discouraged.


Works Cited

Nauert, Rick. “Exercise Alone Fails to Reduce Depression in Nursing Home Residents | Psych Central News.” Psych Central.com. Psych Central, 03 May 2013. Web. 07 May 2013.

Underwood, Martin, MD, Sarah E. Lamb, D.Phil., and Sandra Eldridge, PhD. “Exercise for Depression in Elderly Residents of Care Homes: A Cluster-randomized Controlled Trial.” The Lancet May (2013): n. pag. Print.


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Kevin Giles is a product of Santa Cruz, CA – the stoner capitol of the world. A born again Christian, Kevin loves his Lord Jesus and believes that his purpose in life is determined by God. He first entered drug recovery at the age of 19, suffering from an addiction to marijuana. He is a recent graduate of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, where he earned his Master’s degree in Christian Ministry. Passionate about God’s Word, he aspires to become a pastor or missionary. Kevin has also earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from California State University, Monterey Bay. His interests include traveling, movies, golf, fitness and reading. He also enjoys being outdoors as well as spending time with friends and family. Kevin’s faith, education and life experience give him a unique perspective on addiction, recovery and spirituality.

Filed under: Conditions and Disorders, Research · Tags: depression, elderly, Exercise

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