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Exercise is often recommended to elderly persons for enhancing both physical and mental health. This paper reviews the scientific evidence relating physical activity and reduced depression in the elderly. Population based studies and experimental investigations are summarized and critically evaluated. Included is a discussion of some unique challenges that must be met in order for the relationship between depression and physical activity in the elderly to be adequately studied. The weight of the available population based survey evidence, on noninstitutionalized elderly only, suggests a moderate relationship between self-reported physical inactivity and symptoms of depression. However, there is no compelling experimental evidence that exercise per se is effective in preventing or treating depressive disorders in the elderly. Suggestions aimed at improving future research in this area are offered.
Patrick J. O’Connor and Rod K. Dishman, Department of Exercise Science, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602. Louis E. Aenchbacher, Department of Physical Education, Armstrong State College, Savannah, GA 31406.