BACKGROUND: The prevalence of depression in older people is high, treatment is inadequate, it creates a substantial burden and is a public health priority for which exercise has been proposed as a therapeutic strategy. AIMS: To estimate the effect of exercise on depressive symptoms among older people, and assess whether treatment effect varies depending on the depression criteria used to determine participant eligibility. METHOD: Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials of exercise for depression in older people. RESULTS: Nine trials met the inclusion criteria and seven were meta-analysed. Exercise was associated with significantly lower depression severity (standardised mean difference (SMD) = -0.34, 95% CI -0.52 to -0.17), irrespective of whether participant eligibility was determined by clinical diagnosis (SMD = -0.38, 95% CI -0.67 to -0.10) or symptom checklist (SMD = -0.34, 95% CI -0.62 to -0.06). Results remained significant in sensitivity analyses. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that, for older people who present with clinically meaningful symptoms of depression, prescribing structured exercise tailored to individual ability will reduce depression severity.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Psychiatry

Publication Date





180 - 185


Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Bias, Depressive Disorder, Exercise Therapy, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic