Background: Depression in elderly people may be contributed to by the multiple losses of aging. Exercise has the potential to positively impact many of these losses simultaneously. We tested the hypothesis that progressive resistance training (PRT) would reduce depression while improving physiologic capacity, quality of life, morale, function and self-efficacy without adverse events in an older, significantly depressed population.
Methods: We conducted a 10-week randomized controlled trial of volunteers aged 60 and above with major or minor depression or dysthymia. Subjects were randomized for 10 weeks to either a supervised PRT program three times a week or an attention-control group.
Results: A total of 32 subjects aged 60-84, mean age 71.3 +/- 1.2 yr, were randomized and completed the study. No significant adverse events occurred. Median compliance was 95%. PRT significantly reduced all depression measures (Beck Depression Inventory in exercisers 21.3 +/- 1.8 to 9.8 +/- 2.4 versus controls 18.4 +/- 1.7 to 13.8 +/- 2, p = .002; Hamilton Rating Scale of Depression in exercisers 12.3 +/- 0.9 to 5.3 +/- 1.3 versus controls 11.4 +/- 1.0 to 8.9 +/- 1.3, p = .008). Quality of life subscales of bodily pain (p = .001), vitality (p = .002), social functioning (p = .008), and role emotional (p = .02) were all significantly improved by exercise compared to controls. Strength increased a mean of 33% +/- 4% in exercisers and decreased 2% +/- 2% in controls (p < .0001). In a multiple stepwise regression model, intensity of training was a significant independent predictor of decrease in depression scores (r2 = .617, p = .0002).
Conclusions: PRT is an effective antidepressant in depressed elders, while also improving strength, morale, and quality of life.