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Ageing: study shows active life leads to more quality years [Print to PDF] [Print to RTF]

A new study from Swedish researchers has shown that regular physical activity is associated with a lower risk of suffering depression in old age. Writing in the journal Health Psychology, the team from the University of Gothenburg explain how their findings show that self-dete...
Ageing: study shows active life leads to more quality years
A new study from Swedish researchers has shown that regular physical activity is associated with a lower risk of suffering depression in old age. Writing in the journal Health Psychology, the team from the University of Gothenburg explain how their findings show that self-determined motivation and perceived competence are important factors in persuading elderly people to exercise more.

The findings are based on a study of 17,500 elderly people with an average age of 64 from across Europe. The data come from the large EU-funded population study SHARE ('Survey of health, ageing and retirement'), which was initially funded in part by EUR 2 758 630 under the 'Quality of life and management of living resources' Thematic area of the European Commission's Fifth Framework Programme (FP5).

SHARE has now become a major component of the European Research Area; in 2008 it was selected as one of the projects to be implemented in the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), a strategic instrument to develop the scientific integration of Europe and to strengthen its international outreach. Since its conception in 2002, further funding for the project has been provided by the European Commission through the 'Research infrastructures' Theme of both the Sixth and Seventh Framework Programmes (FP6 and FP7 respectively), allowing the project to live on and continue to collect data.

Magnus Lindwall from the University of Gothenburg comments on his team's findings:
'We do not yet know for sure what the causal relationship between physical activity and depression is like. What is clear is that elderly people who are physically active are less depressed, but higher levels of depression can also lead to less exercise, and this suggests there is a mutual influence. This study is one of the first to look at both how physical activity affects future depression and vice versa, and how change in physical activity is associated with change in depression over time.

Amid an ageing European population, studies like this one are essential to support government recommendations on the use of physical activity as a powerful preventive measure against ill mental health in the elderly. If depression among elderly people is stopping them from being physically active, there is a knock-on effect on whole healthcare system.

Magnus Lindwall continues: 'An important question for the researchers to answer has been what motivates elderly people to be physically active. Modern motivational theories propose, for example, that individuals who feel that they are competent, that they can take decisions for themselves and have freedom of choice, and that they feel social relatedness linked to physical activity experience a more internal and a less controlled form of motivation for exercise. This form of motivation, unlike a non-self-determining external form of motivation, is also associated with the maintenance of long-term regular physical activity, which also improves the prospects for the positive effects that physical activity can have on both physical and mental health. Right now we are developing and testing a structured programme to increase motivation for physical activity among the elderly based on the theories that today have strong support in the research.'

The SHARE survey is a multidisciplinary and cross-national panel database of micro data on health, socioeconomic status and social and family networks of more than 45,000 individuals aged 50 or over. The initial study took place in 2004 and saw Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland contribute data.

In 2005 and 2006, data were added from the Czech Republic, Israel and Poland, and Ireland joined up for the second wave of data collection which took place in 2006 and 2007.

The third wave of data collection - titled SHARELIFE - took place in 2008 and 2009, and focused on people's life histories. SHARELIFE links individual micro data over the respondents' entire life with institutional macro data on the welfare state. This means researchers can use the data to assess the full effect of welfare state interventions on the life of the individual, and make policy recommendations. The SHARELIFE questionnaire covers all important areas of respondents' lives, including partners and children, housing and work history, and detailed questions on health and health care.
Source: University of Gothenburg

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Record Number: 33987 / Last updated on: 2011-11-03
Category: Report summary
Provider: EC