Meditate and Then Go Running to Help with Depression

Posted 05/09/2016 | By HealthCorps

We already know that running does a body and mind good, based on a stack of studies published that highlight the link between exercise and health. We also know that meditating is an excellent way to reduce stress, improve blood pressure, improve cardiac health, and manage pain, among other benefits.

Now comes a new study that suggests that if you meditate before you run, it may impact the brain in specific ways that are beneficial to alleviating depression. Though both approaches individually are beneficial to health, it seems that the one-two punch of the two modalities combined with meditation first followed by running, impacts the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, and reduces ruminations quite effectively. Rumination describes a process in depression in which individuals dwell on very gloomy thoughts and unhappy past memories.

Brain scans show that long time meditators have certain patterns of brain-cell communication that show better abilities to focus and concentrate. Aerobic exercise helps to increase the production of new brain cells in the hippocampus. Add the two disciplines together and they seem to intensify the impact that each one has by itself, on brain physiology.

The small study involved 52 men and women, 22 of which had some level of diagnosed depression. The diagnoses were confirmed by the researchers, and each subject also had testing that measured electrical signals in their brain. Most showed the expected signaling patterns in the prefrontal cortex that is associated with poor concentration and focus. The subjects were then taught a form of meditation known as focused attention. It involves sitting quietly for a period of time, focused on breathing and counting. In the beginning, many of the subjects struggled to control rumination, but control improved over time as they continued to practice.

The goal was to meditate for 20 minutes first, then do 10 minutes of walking meditation, paying attention to walking pattern and pace, and finally the subjects either cycled on stationary bikes or ran on a treadmill for a 30 minute period, at a moderate pace. The 30 minute workout included a warm up and a cool down. The program was performed twice a week for eight weeks. The subjects’ mood and ability to focus was then reassessed.

The 22 subjects diagnosed with depression showed a 40% reduction in symptoms of depression. They also reported much less time ruminating. Even the control group reported being happier, despite no diagnosis of depression among them. Results on computerized tests confirmed better ability to focus among the depressed subjects and their prefrontal cortex activity was now similar to the control group. The researchers were actually surprised to find these improvements after just eight weeks.

The researchers believe the meditation made the exertion minutes more tolerable, so the subjects were able to stick with the challenging part of the exercise program for a full eight weeks. They also postulate that the exercise likely increased the number of brain cell neurons, but it was the meditation that helped to keep more of the neurons alive and functioning. The lead researcher, an avid runner, was so impressed by the results that he actually started to meditate before running.

This was a very small study so there are plans to look at larger groups of subjects and to extend the study. There are also plans to research the impact of meditating after running or switching off with the order.

Sources:
Rutgers Today
New York Times

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