Down With Depression! Physical Therapy Can Help You Stay Out of the Dark | Heather Lane

Down With Depression! Physical Therapy Can Help You Stay Out of the Dark

Down With Depression! Physical Therapy Can Help You Stay Out of the Dark

Depression can feel as if you’re in a dense fog that covers you like a smothering blanket, and it’s become very common among seniors. More than 6.5 million American adults older than 65 deal with depression on a daily basis. But even if you’re dealing with loss or a medical condition, depression doesn’t have to be part of normal aging. How can you throw off that blanket, break through from the fog and let the sunshine back into your life?

Symptoms of depression in older adults

When you have depression in your later years, it can keep you from interacting in the ways that have been familiar to you. Symptoms of depression in older adults can be different from those in younger people. They include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Memory problems
  • Weight loss
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Physical pain
  • Difficulty concentrating

Physical activity and mood

Regular physical activity can help lift symptoms of depression. When you take part in aerobic exercise, your brain releases “happy chemicals” called endorphins that make you feel physically better. Not only are the benefits immediate, but they can last for hours or even days.

Typically, antidepressants are prescribed for severely depressed patients. However, at least one long-term study indicates that exercise can be as effective as medication—and help to prevent depression from returning.

Physical therapy treatment for depression

The second way a targeted exercise regimen can lessen depression is to alleviate pain. Many older adults juggle several medical conditions, face complex diagnoses or deal with constant pain. People with these chronic conditions are more likely to get depressed than healthier older people.

Sometimes seniors struggle to find an aerobic exercise program that’s a good fit for them. Some exercises may seem too strenuous or cause pain. A physical therapist can oversee the development and maintenance of an exercise plan in a way that is safe and healthy for the patient.

In designing a plan, the physical therapist stays aware of the individual’s challenges. Addressing these conditions with physical therapy can make them easier to handle and can help to alleviate the pain. This, in turn, can lower levels of depression. When your body feels better, often everything feels better!

Physical conditions that physical therapists can help treat include but are not limited to:

Older adults facing depression but unaccustomed to exercise or afraid that exercising can lead to injury can find that physical therapy is the perfect way to begin moving. The physical therapist can help them find an exercise plan they enjoy!


Blumenthal J.A, Babyak M.A., Moore KA, et al. Effects of exercise training on older patients with major depression. Arch Intern Med. 1999;159(19):2349–2356.

Fox, K. (1999). The influence of physical activity on mental well-being. Public Health Nutrition, 2(3a), 411-418.

NAMI. Depression in older persons fact sheet. 2009. Accessed 14 June 2019.

Penninx, Brenda W. J. H., Rejeski, W. Jack, Pandya, J, Miller, Michael E., Di Bari, Mauro, Applegate, William B., Pahor, Marco, Exercise and depressive symptoms: A comparison of aerobic and resistance exercise effects on emotional and physical function in older persons with high and low depressive symptomatology, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Volume 57, Issue 2, 1 March 2002, Pages P124–P132,

Strawbridge, William J., Deleger, Stéphane, Roberts, Robert E., Kaplan, George A. Physical activity reduces the risk of subsequent depression for older adults, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 156, Issue 4, 15 August 2002, Pages 328–334,

Ströhle, A. J Neural Transm (2009) 116: 777.

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