As we age we’re often confronted with life changes that may cause feelings of stress and sadness. Changes such as the death of a loved one, the transitioning from the workplace into retirement, or suddenly dealing with a serious illness can leave us feeling sad, stressed and overwhelmed. Many older adults can regain their emotional balance following such changes, but some have a more difficult time adjusting and adapting and may develop depression.
Depression is not “common” among older adults, however, it’s also not a “normal part” of the aging process.
Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish major depression from grief. Grief after a loss is a normal reaction to the loss of a loved one, and we all go through the grieving process in our own way and in our own time. However, grief that lasts for a very long time following the loss may be a sign of depression.
Regular exercise can be an effective way to treat some — not all — forms of depression. Physical activity (and it doesn’t need to involve running a marathon or grueling workouts) alters brain chemistry and leads to feelings of well-being. Regular exercise, which can be as simple as walking, gardening, or dancing may be as effective as other treatments like medication to relieve mild depression.
Everyone feels sad from time to time, but depression is characterized by prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. One in four women and one in six men will suffer from depression at some point in their lives.
Depression, health and heart attacks
On average, depressed people only exercise about half as much as people who aren’t depressed. This lack of cardiovascular fitness puts a depressed person at an increased risk of heart attack. It also seems that depression and exercise influence each other – a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of depression, and depression increases the likelihood of a sedentary lifestyle.
Dance like no one is watching, Love like you’ll never be hurt, Sing like no one is listening, Live like it’s heaven on earth. — William Purkey
One research study compared the effects of exercise and drug therapy in treating depression in older people. The 156 depressed men and women were divided into three groups. Over 16 weeks, one group took antidepressants, the second group undertook an aerobic exercise program, and the third group used both medications and exercise. Selected results include:
Researchers have found that regular exercise, and the increase in physical fitness that results, alters serotonin levels in the brain and leads to improved mood and feelings of wellbeing. Some research indicates that regular exercise boosts body temperature, which may ease depression by influencing the brain chemicals.
Other therapeutic benefits of exercise
Apart from changes in brain chemistry, there are other factors that may help explain the benefits of exercise:
My grief process will take much longer than you want it to.
You can’t fix this for me by doing anything but you can just be there for me.
I will be in a sort of fog for at least 3 months. When the fog lifts, I might get worse.
I will have periods of doing okay, then I will feel despair again.
I will be exhausted. Grief is hard work.
My desire, creativity, and motivation will be gone for quite awhile.
My ability to experience joy may also be absent.
I will have a range of emotions from irritability to inexplicable rage and it may be targeted at you. Please forgive me.
I am vulnerable, I feel brittle, and I do not feel resilient.
I can’t take too much stimulation. I probably won’t’feel like being sociable.
I know you miss the old me, but I’m forever changed by the loss of my loved one.
It will feel as though I haven’t made any progress. However, I am slowly healing with occasional normal setbacks.
I will heal. Please be patient, loving, and understanding.
– author unknown