A recently completed study on a large group of elderly Europeans has confirmed that regular physical activity can lower the risk of suffering depression in old age.
In the investigation, researchers found that factors of self-determined motivation and perceived competence are important factors in persuading elderly people to exercise more.
“We do not yet know for sure what the causal relationship between physical activity and depression is like. What is clear is that elderly people who are physically active are less depressed, but higher levels of depression can also lead to less exercise, and this suggests there is a mutual influence,” said Dr. Magnus Lindwall, associate professor in exercise and health psychology at the University of Gothenburg.
Lindwall and his research colleagues studied 17,500 elderly people with an average age of 64 from 11 European countries. The subjects in the study were followed for over two and a half years, with regard to physical activity and depression.
“This study is one of the first to look at both how physical activity affects future depression and vice-versa, and how change in physical activity is associated with change in depression over time,” says Lindwall.
“An important question for the researchers to answer has been what motivates elderly people to be physically active.”
Modern behavioral theories suggest individuals who feel they are competent, make decisions for themselves, have freedom of choice, and feel social relatedness linked to physical activity experience a more internal and a less controlled form of motivation for exercise.
Experts believe this form of internal motivation is associated with the maintenance of long-term regular physical activity.
“Right now we are developing and testing a structured program to increase motivation for physical activity among the elderly based on the theories that today have strong support in the research,” said Lindwall.
The study findings support recommendations to use physical activity as a powerful preventive measure against mental illness in the elderly.
“But regular physical activity is required, otherwise there is a great risk of the long-term favorable effects on health being lost. It is therefore important to identify the barriers, for example depression, that prevent the elderly from being physically active and focus on how to increase the motivation of elderly people for physical activity,” said Lindwall.
Source: University of Gothenburg