Depressive symptoms are common in older adults, but antidepressant medications may be contraindicated or poorly tolerated in this population. Intervention studies demonstrate that exercise may be an effective alternative. This meta-analysis included 41 randomized controlled trials of aerobic and nonaerobic exercise interventions investigating the effect of exercise on depressive symptoms in adults aged 60 or older. A random effects model demonstrated that exercise was associated with significantly lower depression severity (SMD = 0.57, 95% CI 0.36–0.78). This effect was not significantly different for different ages of participants, types of control groups, or types of exercise interventions. Studies requiring a diagnosis of depression had significantly greater mean effect sizes than studies that did not require a depression diagnosis (Qbet = 6.843, df = 1, p = .009). These findings suggest that exercise is an effective treatment option for older individuals with depressive symptoms.
Rhyner and Watts are with the Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.