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Exercise May Be Tonic to Reduce Depression in Older Adults

Exercise May Be Tonic to Reduce Depression in Older Adults

Emerging research suggests that exercise stimulates muscles to release substances that could protect older individuals from depression.

The new study builds upon research in younger adults that has found physical activity can stimulate muscles to release chemicals that boost one’s mood. It is known that exercise increases the expression of certain proteins (transcription factors) that help regulate gene expression and the processing (metabolism) of tryptophan in the body.

Tryptophan is a mood-enhancing chemical closely related to serotonin, a substance that also affects mood.

Many people with depression have been found to have low levels of serotonin in the blood. Tryptophan metabolism happens almost completely through the kynurenine pathway, a “metabolic route” that has two branches: one that can protect brain tissue (neuroprotective) and one that can cause harm (neurotoxic).

The neuroprotective branch of the kynurenine pathway needs an enzyme called KAT to be able to function. The good news is that aerobic and resistance exercise have been found to increase KAT activity, thereby promoting tryptophan metabolism via the neuroprotective branch instead of the neurotoxic branch.

Researchers wanted to know if exercise by older adults could help to release positive chemicals that could improve mood and decrease risk of depression. To do this, investigators from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, studied a small group of healthy older men without history of depression.

The men, who were 65 or older, participated in a 12-week exercise trial consisting of resistance exercise (leg and shoulder presses) and high-intensity interval training on a stationary bicycle. The research team took blood and muscle samples and examined gene and protein expression in the muscles before, during and after the trial.

They found that expression of transcription factors and KAT increased significantly during the exercise trial. These results were consistent with previous research performed in younger adults.

“The significant exercise training-induced increase in the expression of skeletal muscle transcription factors and KAT in older adults is encouraging given the potential implications related to kynurenine pathway regulation.

Researchers noted that future studies are necessary to explore the impact of various exercise modalities and intensities on transient changes of such factors in depressed adults.

The study is published ahead of print in the American Journal of Physiology-Cell Physiology.

Source: American Physiological Society

Exercise May Be Tonic to Reduce Depression in Older Adults

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2019). Exercise May Be Tonic to Reduce Depression in Older Adults. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 4 Mar 2019 (Originally: 4 Mar 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 4 Mar 2019
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