Exercise has been found to be one of the best things you can do for your mind. It affects everything from memory to stress and can even boost your willpower. Countless studies have shown how exercise benefits your brain.
Meditation is another activity that has its own impressive list of psychological benefits. Among them are reductions in stress, increased concentration, and happiness.
What happens when you combine both these activities?
Scientists have found that when you do both of these activities, it can be one of the best natural cures for depression.
Natural and Free
It sounds like something that's almost too good to be true. Can two activities -- both of which can be done in the comfort of your own home and virtually free of charge -- reduce depression?
Researchers from Rutgers University say yes. And the results are pretty spectacular. Their study, published in Translational Psychiatry, discovered that when exercise and meditation were done in combination, that it reduced symptoms of depression by up to 40 percent.
Brandon Alderman, who led the study, says:
We are excited by the findings because we saw such a meaningful improvement in both clinically depressed and non-depressed students.
It is the first time that both of these two behavioral therapies have been looked at together for dealing with depression.
Mental and Physical Fitness
A 40 percent reduction in symptoms is pretty significant. This result came from studying healthy students, as well as students and homeless mothers who had depressive symptoms.
The participants took part in a program designed by the scientists twice a week for eight weeks straight. It consisted of a simple regimen of 30 minutes of focused attention meditation followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise.
When people started worrying or had negative thoughts of the past or future they were instructed to bring their mind back to the present moment. Like other beginners in meditation, this was accomplished by participants focusing on their breath.
Subjects reported improvements in depressive symptoms and fewer negative thoughts than when they started the program. Depressed mothers who took part in the program were also less anxious and had more motivation.
A Better Long Term Solution
While doing exercise and meditation is a powerful combination to defend against depression, they have also been found to combat it separately. Another scientist involved in the research, Tracey Shors, comments:
Scientists have known for a while that both of these activities alone can help with depression.
But this study suggests that when done together, there is a striking improvement in depressive symptoms along with increases in synchronized brain activity.
Those who have a busy schedule can be assured that if you're at least doing one of these activities, that you are still keeping the blues away.
In a time when society's answer to depression is to prescribe pills that regulate brain chemicals or moods, this is welcome news. While it may not be the solution for major cases of depression, it can surely help many by helping control negative thought patterns and rumination.
Brandon sums up the research by saying:
We know these therapies can be practiced over a lifetime and that they will be effective in improving mental and cognitive health.
The good news is that this intervention can be practiced by anyone at any time and at no cost.
Not only is exercise and meditation a cheaper option, it's also a more viable long-term solution to a mental issue that is affecting more and more people in the world. It might even help address some of the underlying issues that help cause depression in the first place.
(This article first appeared on TheBrainFlux.com)
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