Meditation and Running: a Treatment for Depression

New research suggests combining mindfulness meditation and running into a mental health program could help reduce depression.

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While previous studies have found that aerobic exercise and meditation can impact mental health, a study published last month in Translational Psychiatry combines the two.

“Scientists have known for a while that both of these activities alone can help with depression,” says Tracey Shors, a professor of exercise science at Rutgers and co-author of the study. “But this study suggests that when done together, there is a striking improvement in depressive symptoms along with increases in synchronized brain activity.”

The study included 52 participants—22 diagnosed with depression. For eight weeks, volunteers meditated for 30 minutes and completed 30 minutes of aerobic exercise twice a week. Researchers tested their ability to concentrate and mood before and after the eight weeks of training.

The 22 participants with depression reported a 40% reduction in their symptoms. The other individuals in the study without a diagnosis of depression also reported a decrease in ruminative thoughts, anxiety, and an overall improvement in motivation.

Brandon Alderman, lead author of the study, hypothesizes that meditation and running together might strengthen neural mechanisms in the brain.

From writer Gretchen Reynolds in The New York Times:

“We know from animal studies that effortful learning, such as is involved in learning how to meditate, encourages new neurons to mature” in the hippocampus, [Alderman] said.
So while the exercise most likely increased the number of new brain cells in each volunteer’s hippocampus, Dr. Alderman said, the meditation may have helped to keep more of those neurons alive and functioning than if people had not meditated.

Since this is a small study, it remains to be seen if these improvements are sustained.