A new study from Rutgers University and published in Translational Psychiatry, has found that a combination of aerobic exercise and meditation – done together twice a week for only two months – reduced the symptoms of depression in a group of students by 40 percent.
The study involved fifty-two participants – 22 suffering with depression and 30 mentally healthy students – completing an 8-week intervention, which consisted of two sessions per week of 30 min of focused-attention (FA) meditation and 30 min of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise.
The study concluded that participants with diagnosed Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) self-reported a nearly 40% reduction in depressive symptoms after only 8 weeks of training. Interestingly, individuals without a clinical diagnosis of MDD also reported significant reductions in depressive symptoms. Participants with depression also exhibited a significant decrease in self-reported ruminative thoughts, which typically involve repetitive thinking about autobiographical memories and negative valence content from the past. Along with these positive psychological outcomes, significant increases in synchronized neural activity were found following the sessions.
Until recently, the most common and accepted line of treatment for depression has been psychotropic medications, most notably the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and mood stabilizers. However, recent studies indicate that these drugs may not be as effective as once thought and even when they are, relapse often occurs. While it has been widely accepted that both aerobic exercise and meditation can reduce symptoms of depression, this is the first study of its kind to directly assess the combined effects of the two.