It’s well-known that exercise helps alleviate depression, especially aerobic movement. There is plenty of evidence that meditation helps lift moods as well. A new study published in Nature combined these formats, with positive results.
The researchers focused on neurogenesis, the growth of neurons from neural stem cells. A healthy brain will grow thousands every day, predominantly in the hippocampus, a region that aids in memory and emotional regulation. Stress is a known cause of restricted neurogenesis, which can then lead to depression. This study is based on the idea that depression is caused by a reduced number of neurons being produced in the brain.
Aerobic exercise like running has been shown to double the amount of new neurons created in active versus sedentary animals.
The study included fifty-two participants coming into the laboratory twice weekly for eight weeks. Each session included a half-hour of focused-attention meditation and a half-hour of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. Individuals with major depressive disorder reported noticeably less depression during follow-up visits. As the researchers write,
Although previous research has supported the individual beneficial effects of aerobic exercise and meditation for depression and anxiety and other mental health challenges, these findings indicate that a combination of the two may be particularly effective in increasing cognitive control processes and decreasing ruminative thought patterns.