In a new study, researchers at McMaster University have for the first time found that physical activity may help fight depression in seniors by stimulating muscle-generated mood boosters.
The findings reveal that the underlying mechanisms which make us feel good when we exercise persist into old age and highlight the importance of staying active.
Little is known about the relationship between skeletal muscle and mental health, or how exercise impacts this relationship.
Earlier research has shown that physical activity may help to ‘turn on’ genes within skeletal muscle which can then influence the key metabolic pathways that ultimately promote mood-enhancing chemicals, such as serotonin, within the brain.
Muscle loss is a common problem in the elderly which may restrict that pathway and therefore increase the risk for depression, says Allison.
In the study, a group of healthy men, aged 65 and over, followed a 12-week protocol of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) on a stationary bike once a week combined with bi-weekly strength training sessions.
The researchers analyzed blood samples and changes to muscle and found that three months of exercise was enough to enhance gene expression within the skeletal muscle.
The team suggests even individuals who are already metabolically healthy—with good weight, good blood pressure and blood sugar levels—need to prioritize regular physical activity to maintain or improve upon their mental health.
The results have shown such benefits are still achievable in old age and further emphasize the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle.
In the future, the researchers hope to explore the relationship between mental health and exercise among the clinically depressed to see if similar biochemical changes can be achieved
David Allison is the lead author.
The study is published in the American Journal of Physiology—Cell Physiology.
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