Is exercise effective in promoting mental well-being in older age? A systematic review

Aging Ment Health. 2010 Aug;14(6):652-69. doi: 10.1080/13607861003713232.


Background: Promoting the mental well-being of older people has been neglected.

Aim: To examine the clinical and cost-effectiveness of exercise and physical activity interventions on mental well-being in people aged 65+.

Design: Systematic review, meta-analysis, economic model.

Methods: Reports published in English, identified by searching 25 databases, 11 websites and references lists of systematic reviews. Eligible studies were those with a comparison or control group or offering qualitative evidence; exercise and physical activity interventions for people aged 65 and above living at home, in the community, in supported housing or in residential care homes; including outcome measures of mental well-being, not simply measures of depression or anxiety. Low-quality studies were excluded from the data synthesis.

Results: An overall effect of exercise on mental well-being was found (standardised effect size = 0.27; CI = 0.14-0.40). The included interventions were designed for older people, targeted those who are sedentary and delivered in a community setting, primarily through a group-based approach led by trained leaders. As a minimum, the evidence would suggest two exercise sessions per week, each of 45 min duration. There is some indication that exercise can also improve the mental well-being of frail elders. Economic evidence indicated incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (compared with minimal intervention) of pound 7300 and pound 12,100 per quality adjusted life year gained for community-based walking and exercise programmes, respectively.

Conclusions: Mental well-being in later life is modifiable through exercise and physical activity. To generalise the findings, there is a need for more evidence of effectiveness from older people in the UK.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Personal Satisfaction*