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Exercise Impacts Depression for People with Chronic Conditions

According to a new study, adults over 50 with diabetes, heart disease, and chronic pain can significantly reduce their chance of developing depressive symptoms by engaging in as little as 20 minutes of moderate activity five days a week. However, those without chronic illnesses need moderate to vigorous two-hour daily exercise for improvement.

A good diet and physical activity are essential for maintaining our health. Diabetes UK claims that the risk of depression is doubled in people with diabetes, and being active and engaging in reasonable daily activities is crucial to ensure a healthy habit.

The findings, published in the journal JAMA Network Open and led by Eamon Laird, found that people without chronic disease in the study were required to engage in moderate to intense exercise for two hours each day to have a reduction in depression symptoms.

Typically, physical activity is considered moderate if it causes heavy breathing and makes it difficult to talk. Examples include sprinting up and down stairs, dancing, playing tennis, bicycling, and brisk walking.

The amount of time spent exercising can be decreased if the intensity is raised to vigorous, such as when jogging or running, which causes rapid breathing and an increase in heart rate.

Although these results do not support advocating for lower activity levels across the board, they imply that older persons may benefit over the long term from even lower doses of recommended activity. As many older persons may find it challenging to engage in physical activity for various reasons, these doses may be more feasible.

What is unique (about this study) is that it is the first and largest investigation of a longitudinal cohort — with and without chronic disease — to try and work out what was the lowest minimal dose to observe a difference in depression.

- Laird

Around 4,000 Irish people with an average age of 61 were observed over a ten-year period. Every two years, the Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging participants underwent evaluations. In addition to being tested to gauge the severity of their depression symptoms, individuals were questioned regarding their degree of physical activity and exercise.

The significant depression category also included people with a major depressive episode in the previous 12 months. A two-week or more extended period is considered an episode if the person experiences exhaustion, despair, and hopelessness, a loss of interest in activities or sleep issues, weight increase or loss, or suicidal thoughts.

"Examples of symptoms from the questionnaire included: I had trouble keeping my mind on what I was doing; My sleep was restless; I felt I could not shake off the blues even with the help from my family and friends; etc," says Laird.

According to the study, people who moderately exercised for 20 minutes a day, five days a week, had a 43% reduced risk of major depression and a 16% lower rate of depressive symptoms than those who did not exercise. With a 23% decrease in depressive symptoms and a 49% decreased chance of severe depression, those who exercised two hours daily had the most significant benefits.

During 10 years, the overall rate of depression for the entire cohort climbed from an average of 8% to 12%, while the usage of antidepressants grew from around 6% to 10%. However, during the trial, the group's activity rates decreased by roughly 10%.

Larid concludes that the study's outcomes were not unexpected, as he cited considerable prior research demonstrating a high correlation between exercise and lowering depression.


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