Training with Mature Adults with Depression

Although depression is not a normal part of aging, pilule depression is a common problem among older adults.  According to the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, here 15 out of every 100 adults over the age of 65 experience symptoms of depression that cause them distress and make it hard for them to function.

We know that exercise is effective for treating depression in mature adults.  Many studies in the last decade have looked at the effects of exercise on depres Depression and Older Adultsion and found the exercise increases self-esteem, store improves mood, reduces anxiety levels, increased the ability to handle stress, and improves sleep patterns.  So exercise itself is one way to get older adults to feel better.  Recent research suggests that exercise may be an effective antidote to major depression.

Duke researchers recently tested 156 outpatients 50 and older who met the criteria for a major depressive disorder. They tested exercise against Zoloft, and found the ability of either (or a combination of the two) to reduce or eliminate symptoms were about the same.  They did find that exercise did do a better job of keeping symptoms form coming back after the depression had lifted.  (Blumenthal)

Those who work with older adults one on one, Personal Trainers, Physical Therapists, etc., can help older adults feel better by using two techniques, which are 1) exercise and 2), excellent attention.

Exercise, even after a few minutes, breaks down barriers freeing older adults to become more self-expressive about feelings or distresses in their lives.

Once an older adult feels safe to express themselves, then it is important to become an engaged listener with full attention.  Resist giving advice and limit your talking.  While listening with full attention you’ll draw the mature adult out and encourage free expression of emotions.  If you are engaged in this kind of interaction, it is a good idea to select exercises that you can continue to establish good eye contact.  For example, avoid using an exercise lying on their back where your eye level is higher than theirs.  This can be a dominant position and discourage the free flowing interaction between the mature adult and you.  Constantly assess your position, adjusting by standing or kneeling to keep eye level contact.

Here is a list of helpful ideas for listening to older adults:

  1. Stop Talking.  You can’t listen while you are talking.
  2. Empathize.  Try to put yourself in the mature adult’s place so that you can experience or see what they are trying to get at.
  3. Don’t give up to soon.  Don’t interrupt, be patient.
  4. Concentrate on what the mature adult is saying with out your mind wondering.  Actively focus your attention on words, ideas, and feelings related to the subject.
  5. Look at the other person.  Use both of your eyes to intently focus on one eye of the older adult, rather than shifting from eye to eye.  You’ll be amazed at what you will see and learn from them.
  6. Leave your emotions behind.  Try to push your worries, fears and problems outside the interaction.

So, use the right exercise intensity levels to break down barriers to create open communication.  Then, with your best effort and intention, really engage with the mature adult with good attention.  With this combination, the mature adult will be better able to re-evaluate issues and think more clearly about them.  They will be less depressed and feeling better about them selves.

Paul Holbrook, MA, CSCS
Gerontologist – Certified Strength
and Conditioning Specialist
Owner of Age Performance


1Blumenthal, James A, and Et al.  “Effects of exercise rraining on older patients with major depression. “Archives of Internal Medicine 159.19 (199910: 2349-2356.

Many studies in the last decade…”      

            1.  Elrick, Harold.  Exercise is Medicine.  The Physician Sports Medicine. 3 Oct. 2001.

            2.  Akande, A, and Et al.  “Importance of Exercise and Nutrition in the Prevention of Illness and the Enhancement of Health.”  Education 120.4 (2000) 758-772.

             3.  Brill, Patricia A, and Kenneth H Cooper.  “Physical Exercise and Mental Health.”  National Forum 73.1 (1993): 44-46.



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