Background and aims: Epidemiological research suggests that reduced physical activity and mobility may be associated with depressive symptoms. The present study examines the relative roles of mobility status and physical activity as predictors of depressive symptoms among community-dwelling older adults.
Methods: The subjects comprised randomly selected, non-institutionalized residents of the city of Jyväskylä, central Finland, born in 1904-1923. At baseline, 80% (N = 1224) and after the 8-year follow-up period (1996) 88% (N = 663) of eligible persons were interviewed. All non-institutionalized men and women (N = 384) who participated in both baseline and follow-up interviews, who supplied data on the main questions of interest and who had no depressive symptoms at baseline, were selected for analysis. Depressive symptoms were assessed using the Finnish modified version of Beck's 13-item depression scale (RBDI). Physical activity was assessed on a seven-point scale. Mobility status was defined as the ability to walk two kilometers and climb one flight of stairs.
Results: Subjects who were mobility-disabled and had a sedentary life-style had a higher risk (OR = 2.44) for depressive symptoms at follow-up than those who had good mobility and were physically active. The risk was also higher (OR = 1.99) in those who were mobility-disabled and had a physically active life-style, compared with physically active individuals with intact mobility. Those with good mobility had fewer depressive symptoms than those who had mobility problems, irrespective of the level of physical activity. No significant interaction was observed between physical activity and mobility in predicting the development of depressive symptoms. Older age significantly increased, and the number of chronic illnesses tended to increase the risk of developing depressive symptoms during the follow-up period. Gender and length of education were not significant predictors of depressive symptoms.
Conclusions: Mobility problems and older age seem to increase the risk for developing depressive symptoms in elderly people. The risk is not associated with the level of physical activity.