One of the marks of depression is rumination, or constantly going over the bad things that have happened in your life, with an obsessive belief that all is lost, and that it’s probably your fault. A new study out of Rutgers has looked at the combined effects of meditation and exercise on treatment of major depressive disorder, and specifically, on rumination.
It’s known that exercise and meditation, when done separately, can ease depression, but researchers wanted to see what would happen if they combined the two. Exercise is known to help with creation of new brain cells, and “effortful mental training” helps to keep brain cells alive that might otherwise die off. Recently, there has been evidence that in individuals where there is depression, there is also a smaller hippocampus. Their thinking was that by combining exercise and meditation as mental training, they might be able to help encourage a more active and robust hippocampus, a structure in the brain that is actively involved in learning.
Researchers developed a combined mental and physical training, (MAP), where they had participants spend 30 minutes in focused attention meditation, followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. They worked with two sets of participants, both those with major depressive disorder, and those with no mental health issues, and both sets reported less symptoms of depression, as well as less rumination after twice weekly sessions for 8 weeks.
If you want to try MAP at home, follow these steps, based on the Rutgers study:
- 20 minutes of focused attention meditation. Sit in an upright position, and focus your attention on your breath. When you notice your mind has wandered, and you are caught up in a thought, acknowledge that and bring your attention back to your breath. You can count your breaths if that helps you to keep the focus there.
- 10 minutes walking meditation. In walking meditation, let your awareness be on your feet, paying particular attention to the weight shifting from one foot to the other as you slowly walk.
- 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. Spend 5 minutes warming up your body, and then spend 30 minutes doing some kind of aerobic exercise. Keep the intensity at a range of 5 - 7 on a 10 point scale, in other words, moderate intensity. Follow up with a minute cool down.