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Meditation and exercise may help treat depression with no side effects

04-27 | Rachael

Meditation and exercise may help treat depression with no side effects

Individuals with major depressive disorder reported significantly less depressive symptoms and ruminative thoughts when introduced to mental and physical training (MAP), says a study, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry in February 2016. MAP is a novel clinical intervention that combines mental training through meditation and physical training through aerobic exercise.

The study, titled “MAP training: combining meditation and aerobic exercise reduces depression and rumination while enhancing synchronized brain activity,” was conducted on the lines of neuro-scientific studies signifying the fact that MAP training increases neuro genesis in an adult brain.

Although earlier studies have already reported that depressed patients benefit from exercise and meditation, the latest study specifies that a “combination of the two may be particularly effective in increasing cognitive control processes and decreasing ruminative thought patterns.”

“It is widely accepted that aerobic exercise and meditation training are useful behavioral therapies for remediating clinical symptoms of depression. However, no study to date has assessed the combined effects of the two behavioral interventions,” the study said.

Meditation techniques, as a tool to treat depression, have managed to generate a lot of attention in the field of depression treatment. “Mindfulness meditation, the practice of attending to the present moment and allowing thoughts and emotions to pass without judgment, has received the most attention as an effective therapy for reducing symptoms of depression,” the researchers said.

Modus operandi

The study was conducted on 52 participants for an eight-week intervention that included two sessions per week. Each session consisted of 30 minutes of focused-attention (FA) meditation and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. It was not only the individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD; n=22) who reported significant improvement in their depression, even healthy individuals (n=30) reported less depressive symptoms at follow-up. The findings indicated enhanced neural responses during the detection and resolution of conflicting stimuli.

A notch above other treatments

The authors feel that the current treatment procedure of administering psychotropic medications, which include serotonin reuptake inhibitors and mood stabilizers, has many side effects. Relapses are an unavoidable part of such medication procedures. Other psychotherapy treatment, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy may be effective but it takes considerable time and unflinching commitment from the patient.

However, these two behavioral therapies of aerobic exercise and meditation “have demonstrated benefits for individuals suffering from depression, are not accompanied by profound side effects and can be practiced across the lifespan,” the researchers said.

Limitations of the study

The research, however, had some limitations as pointed by others. One was the EEG result during the cognitive control task, and the other was that the effect of cognitive-behavioral therapy was not included in the study.

Despite such limitations, the study managed to drive home the point that meditation and exercise can bring in significant improvement in depressed patients. The study demonstrated the effectiveness of a combined behavioral treatment in improving mental and cognitive health in people afflicted with MDD and also otherwise healthy individuals.


If someone in the family is suffering from depression, it is time to seek professional help. The Depression Treatment Helpline of Colorado helps one find the right treatment facility in accordance with the needs. You may call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-427-5668 or chat online for further information.

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