A new study has discovered that meditation and aerobic exercise together reduce depression.
The Rutgers University study found that this mind and body combination, done twice a week for only two months, reduced the symptoms for a group of students by 40 percent.
Researchers believe the study shows that an individual, personal intervention can relieve depression at any time and for no cost.
The study has been published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.
“We are excited by the findings because we saw such a meaningful improvement in both clinically depressed and non-depressed students,” said lead author Dr. Brandon Alderman, assistant professor in the Department of Exercise Science and Sport Studies.
“It is the first time that both of these two behavioral therapies have been looked at together for dealing with depression.”
Researchers believe the two activities have a synergistic effect in combating depression.
Alderman and Dr. Tracey Shors, professor in the Department of Psychology and Center for Collaborative Neuroscience, discovered that a combination of mental and physical training (MAP) enabled students with major depressive disorder not to let problems or negative thoughts overwhelm them.
“Scientists have known for a while that both of these activities alone can help with depression,” said Shors. “But this study suggests that when done together, there is a striking improvement in depressive symptoms along with increases in synchronized brain activity.”
Researchers followed men and women over an eight-week program. Participants included 22 suffering with depression and 30 mentally healthy students.
At the end of the study, group members reported fewer depressive symptoms and said they did not spend as much time worrying about negative situations taking place in their lives as they did before the study began.
This group also provided MAP training to young mothers who had been homeless but were living at a residential treatment facility when they began the study. The women exhibited severe depressive symptoms and elevated anxiety levels at the beginning of the study.
However, by the end of the eighth week, they too, reported that their depression and anxiety had eased. The women also reported feeling more motivated, and were able to focus more positively on their lives.
Depression, a debilitating disorder that affects nearly one in five Americans sometime in their lives, often occurs in adolescence or young adulthood.
Until recently, the most common treatment for depression has been psychotropic medications that influence brain chemicals involved in regulating emotions. Cognitive behavioral therapy or talk therapy can also reduce depression but the intervention takes considerable time and commitment on the part of the patient.
Rutgers researchers say those who participated in the study began with 30 minutes of focused attention meditation followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. They were told that if their thoughts drifted to the past or the future they should refocus on their breathing, enabling those with depression to accept moment-to-moment changes in attention.
Shors, who studies the production of new brain cells in the hippocampus — part of the brain involved in memory and learning — says even though neurogenesis cannot be monitored in humans, scientists have shown in animal models that aerobic exercise increases the number of new neurons and effortful learning keeps a significant number of those cells alive.
The idea for the human intervention came from her laboratory studies, she says, with the main goal of helping individuals acquire new skills so that they can learn to recover from stressful life events.
By learning to focus their attention and exercise, people who are fighting depression can acquire new cognitive skills that can help them process information and reduce the overwhelming recollection of memories from the past, Shors says.
“We know these therapies can be practiced over a lifetime and that they will be effective in improving mental and cognitive health,” said Alderman.
“The good news is that this intervention can be practiced by anyone at any time and at no cost.”
Source: Rutgers University