The Combination of Exercise and Meditation Can Decrease Depression

Science says mixing meditation into your exercise routine might actually be more effective than antidepressants

There’s a ton of evidence linking exercise and its mood-boosting endorphins to more happiness. And the mind-body connection is a total no-brainer. (See: 13 Mental Benefits of Exercise.) But according to a new study from Rutgers University in New Jersey, exercise can be used as an active weapon against depression when mixed with one thing: meditation.

Until recently, the main types of treatment for depression have been psychotropic drugs, which alter brain chemicals and regulate emotions, or talk therapy, which can take a considerable amount of time to prove effective. (This is Your Brain On: Depression.) This new study, which was just published in the journal Translational Psychiatry found that the mix of meditation and exercise can seriously reduce symptoms of depression—and it can do it fast.

The researchers took two groups of students—one mentally healthy and one suffering from depression—and put them through an eight-week training course. Both groups performed a fitness routine twice a week, beginning with 30 minutes of focused attention meditation and ending with 30 minutes of aerobic exercise.

At the end of the two months, they measured a whopping 40 percent drop in depressive symptoms among the participants previously wrestling with depression, and all of the participants reported spending less time thinking about negative situations. (Read more about 17 Powerful Benefits of Meditation.) Considering the fact that depression will affect one in five adults at some point in their lives, this is big news for all of us.

According to the researchers, the secret behind the mix of exercise and meditation is learning to manipulate attention. During the meditation portion of the routine, participants were instructed to refocus on their breathing in the present moment if their thoughts began to wander to the past or future—a process that enabled those struggling with depression to learn to sit with and control moment-to-moment changes in attention.

At the same time, aerobic exercise encourages the growth of new brain cells. Combine the two practices, and you essentially get more brain power to learn more cognitive skills that can help you process information and deal with depression. (P.S. Scientists also recently discovered A New Drug That Could Revolutionize the Way We Treat Depression.)

To harness the brain-boosting benefits of this combo, remember these two practices work better together. If you’re already a runner, carve out time for two 30-minute meditation sessions each week. And if you’re a yogi, make sure you’re getting a dose of cardio to accompany your next meditation sesh.


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