With Some Chronic Conditions, Less Exercise Needed For Depression

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A little exercise goes a long way in fighting depression in people over 50 with chronic conditions that are often associated with depression, according to new research.

Just 20 minutes of moderate activity a day for five days a week can significantly lower symptoms of depression in older adults with ailments like diabetes, heart disease, and chronic pain, says the study published this week in JAMA Network Open.

Meanwhile, people in the study without a chronic disease had to do more intense exercise for longer periods of time to get improvement in depressive symptoms, lead author Eamon Laird at the University of Limerick in Ireland was quoted as saying to CNN.

Those people need moderate to vigorous exercise for two hours a day, Laird said.

What’s “moderate” mean? It usually means exercise that’s hard enough to make it difficult to speak while you’re doing it – like biking, playing tennis, and brisk walking. Vigorous means running or some other more intense exercise when breathing and heart rates increase.

“We do not advocate for reduced activity levels in any population, but these findings suggest that even doses lower than recommended may well protect mental health over time in older adults,” Laird said. “These doses may be more achievable as many older adults may find it difficult to undertake physical activity for a large number of reasons.”

The study examined information from more than 4,000 participants in the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing. The data were collected from October 2009 to December 2018 and analyzed last summer.

More time exercising brought better results, the study reports. Two hours a day brought the most benefit, with a 23% drop in symptoms and 49% drop in major depression.

“The higher the physical activity dose, the greater the mental health benefits for depression,” Laird said.