Exercise and meditation combined may combat depression

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A combined program of meditation and exercise can reduce depression, according to a Rutgers study.

The study, published in Translational Psychiatry, found that meditating and engaging in exercise twice a week for only two months reduced the symptoms for a group of students by 40 per cent.

'We are excited by the findings because we saw such a meaningful improvement in both clinically depressed and non-depressed students', lead author Brandon Alderman told Rutgers Today. 'It is the first time that both of these two behavioural therapies have been looked at together for dealing with depression.'

Alderman, assistant professor in the Department of Exercise Science and Sports Studies, and Tracey Shors, professor in the Department of Psychology and Centre for Collaborative Neuroscience, discovered that a combination of mental and physical training enabled students with major depressive disorder not to let problems or negative thoughts overwhelm them.

'Scientists have known for a while that both of these activities alone can help with depression,' said Shors. 'But this study suggests that when done together, there is a striking improvement in depressive symptoms along with increases in synchronised brain activity.'

The study included 30 minutes of meditation followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. Participants were advised that if their thoughts drifted to the past or the future they should refocus on their breathing – enabling those with depression to accept moment-to-moment changes in attention.

Out of the 22 people suffering with depression and 30 mentally healthy students who took part in the eight-week program, everyone reported fewer depressive symptoms and said they spent less time ruminating after participating in the study.

'We know these therapies can be practiced over a lifetime and that they will be effective in improving mental and cognitive health,' says Alderman. 'The good news is that this intervention can be practiced by anyone at any time and at no cost.'

READ: Healthy diet linked to lower odds of depression

READ: Running and depression: how to cope