Meditation and exercise are two lifestyle changes that are often recommended to people who are suffering from depression, but a new study has found that combining the two may be effective for curing mental illness.
The study from Rutgers has found that using mediation and exercise together can significantly reduce the symptoms of depression in as little as two months.
An estimated 20 million Americans suffer from depression each year. Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses affecting people in the U.S. and is a major risk factor for suicide.
Anaerobic exercise, such as jogging or swimming, is often recommended for depression, as it can release endorphins and other “feel good” hormones. Meditation has also been recommended, as it has been found to have benefits for positive mental health.
However, a new study published in the journal Transcendental Psychiatry has found that a combination of the two techniques may be the most effective way to combat depression.
“Scientists have known for a while that both of these activities alone can help with depression,” said study author and Rutgers professor Tracey Shors. “But this study suggests that when done together, there is a striking improvement in depressive symptoms along with increases in synchronized brain activity.”
In the study, participants went through an eight-week mental and physical training (MAP) program, which combined both meditation and anaerobic exercise. Twenty-two of the participants suffered from depression, while another 30 were mentally healthy.
The MAP program involved 30 minutes of focused meditation, followed by 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, either running on a treadmill or cycling. This routine was done twice a week.
The results of the study found that the meditation and exercise drastically reduced depressive symptoms in the participants by the end of the eight-week period. Meditating and exercising was found to reduce the symptoms of depression by 40%.
Both the participants who suffered from depression and those who were mentally healthy reported worrying less after going through the MAP program.
“We are excited by the findings because we saw such a meaningful improvement in both clinically depressed and non-depressed students,” said lead author Brandon Alderman.
The researchers also tried the MAP program with a second group of participants, consisting of young mothers who were living at a residence for the homeless. These women also saw similar benefits after the eight weeks, reporting that they had more motivation and were thinking more positively.
It is believed that anaerobic fitness can increase the number of new neurons our brains create, while meditation has been shown in studies to make parts of the brain denser.
The results of the study may have big implications for the treatment of depression.
While further research will need to be done on this therapy, people suffering from depression can begin to use the techniques on their own.
Focused meditation can be learned through books or online tutorials, while simple exercise like jogging, cycling or swimming can be used for the exercise portion of the therapy.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Alderman, B. L., et al. “MAP training: combining meditation and aerobic exercise reduces depression and rumination while enhancing synchronized brain activity,” Translational Psychiatry (2016); doi: 10.1038/tp.2015.225.