The Synergistic Effects of Meditation + Exercise on Depression

You’ve definitely heard of endorphins, the feel-good hormones that are released during physical activity. And you’ve probably heard about the head-clearing benefits of meditation, how being mindful can help to combat stress and anxiety. But what you may not have heard about is how combining these two activities (exercise + meditation) has an effect greater than the sum of each part. A new study shows that MAP training (mental and physical training combined) allows for increased results from both types of activities. These findings could drastically improve the quality of life for people with mild to moderate depression. Some even say the results are so good that certain individuals may find MAP training as beneficial as drug therapy.

Sitting Before You Sweat

Professional athletes have long known that meditation can improve performance. Sports rely heavily on mindfulness, the moment-by-moment awareness of a person’s feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations. Legendary Bulls coach Phil Jackson told Oprah in a 2013 interview, “As much as we pump iron and we run to build our strength up, we build our mental strength up so we can focus … and so we can be in concert with one another in times of need.” It turns out that even the most casual exerciser can experience improved performance after meditation.

Depression and anxiety are often fraught with ruminating thoughts—feelings of worry or anxiety that a person can’t see to get out from under. Both meditation and exercise can help with breaking these thought patterns, but when used in conjunction, the results are magnified.

In the aforementioned study, subjects (half with depression and half without) were taught a form of meditation called focused attention. This is a simple, entry-level form that involves counting your breaths up to 10 and then counting backwards. Participants engaged in this for 20 minutes and then moved on to a walking type of meditation for 10 minutes. After the 30 minutes of meditation, they participated in the aerobic exercise of their choice for 30 minutes. Not only did participants find that they could keep doing their aerobic activity for linger than they thought, they found the exercises easier to complete and felt positive about the process.

Synergistic Results

Subjects completed this hour-long routine twice a week for 8 weeks and were tested at various points along the way. The mental health results were significant: of those with depression, a 40 percent reduction in anxiety was reported. Those subjects said they felt free from anxious thoughts and felt more positive about their lives in general. These benefits peaked immediately following the exercise, but the gains were measurable even on the days when the MAP training was not done. The non-depressed subjects also noted a significant increase in their mood, concentration and attention.

No Reason Not to Try MAP

This study focused only on the mental health and well being of the subjects, but we of course know that exercise provides numerous physical health benefits as well (from endurance, improved heart rates, to the burning of calories). At only a 2-hour a week commitment, there’s really no reason NOT to try a MAP program, whether you want to improve your symptoms of depression or just improve your outlook (and your body).

Have you incorporated meditation into your workout? Comment and let us know!

Pamela Bofferding is a native Texan who now lives with her husband and sons in New York City. She enjoys hiking, traveling, and playing with her dogs.

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published July 28th, 2016
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