Although physical activity (PA) has been demonstrated to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, research on the mental health benefits of PA in older adults is limited. Moreover, the psychosocial factors that might mediate or moderate the relationship between PA and depression in this population are largely unexplored.
Using a sample of adults age 65 and older (N = 2736), we examined whether the major components of the stress process model (stress, social support, mastery, self-esteem) and physical health mediate or moderate the relationship between PA and depressive symptoms.
Physical health has the single largest effect, accounting for 45% of the effect of PA on depression. The stress process model, with physical health included, accounts for 70% of the relationship between PA and depression.
Among older adults with above average levels of perceived mastery, greater physical activity is associated with higher levels of depression. Limitations and directions for further research are discussed.