Staying Active Could Protect Elderly From Psychological Distress, Study Shows

Older adults who stay active could be shielding themselves from psychological distress such as depression, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Western Sydney reported that people who are the most physically active are also the ones who are the least likely to be functionally limited -- meaning, the less active a person is, the higher the risk of being functionally limited.

However, researchers also found that people with psychological distress are four times more likely to be functionally limited than people without psychological distress.

"There is a significant, positive relationship between physical activity and physical function in older adults, with older adults who are more physically active being less likely to experience functional limitation than their more-sedentary counterparts," the researchers wrote in the study.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, included 91,375 men and women in Australia, who are ages 65 and older. More than 8 percent of the study participants reported having a form of psychological distress.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, anywhere from 28 to 34 percent of people ages 65 to 74 don't regularly exercise. The number is even higher for those ages 75 and older: 44 percent of them do not exercise, according to the figures.

Meanwhile, just 31 percent of people between ages 65 and 74 said that they worked out at a moderate intensity for 20 minutes for at least three times a week.

"Physical activity is more powerful than any medication a senior can take," Dr. Cheryl Phillips, a San Francisco physician and president of the American Geriatrics Society, told the Los Angeles Times.

Previously, ABC News reported on a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine showing that exercise could help to alleviate depression among elderly people -- and that it could even work better than medication, ABC News reported.

That study included 156 people ages 50 and older, who all had major depression. People who exercised thrice weekly for 16 weeks had improvements in their depressive symptoms, even more so than people who took only drugs, or people who took drugs and exercised, according to ABC News.

"If exercise could be put in a pill it would be the number one anti-aging medicine and the number one anti-depression medicine," Dr. Robert N. Butler, President of the International Longevity Center at Mount Sinai Medical School, who was not involved in the study, told ABC News. "It’s also cheap, and it avoids problems such as the side-effects of medication."

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