We've known for a long time that running can be a powerful mood booster. Enthusiasts rave about runners high and the rush of positive emotions that come from a good run. We also know what a powerful force meditation is, and the amazing way it can help your clear your mind and reduce stress levels.
Related: How to Become a Runner
Now, research is saying that the synergy from doing these two emotionally beneficial activities together can have a profound and significant impact on mental health. Translational Psychiatry published a study citing the benefits of "MAP" (mental and physical) training on depression. The study proved that by combining aerobic exercise (running in particular) and meditation, you can mitigate depressive thoughts and feelings, and start to feel more like yourself again.
Here's how the study worked: twice a week, patients with severe depression took part in 30 minutes of meditation, and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, over the course of eight weeks. The result? Improved mood and lessened depression. They even tried this same method on patients who weren't depressed ("typical healthy individuals"), and they felt better, too! The brains of the participants experienced neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells, or neurons) — something that is typically inhibited during depression. Specifically, the growth of new neural cells in the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for learning, memory, mood, etc.) plays an integral part in how your mind fights depression and controls mood, and through the use of consistent MAP training, scientists were able to stimulate this neural growth in patients.
The road to recovery from depression is not an easy one, and there are so many factors that contribute to one's personal mental health journey. But now knowing that running (or any aerobic exercise!) and meditation together can have such a strong, scientifically proven effect on a person's mood, hope seems even more within reach.
Have you been dealing with depression or depressive thoughts? Here are some tips to get started with MAP training.
- Get started with routine from the study: run (or work out) for 30 minutes, twice a week, and meditate for 30 minutes, twice a week.
- Start running with these beginner tips
- Go from walking to running using this eight-week program
- Start your meditation practice with this mindfulness playlist
- Try eating some tryptophan-rich foods, as tryptophan helps release serotonin, which helps you feel less depressed
Above all, remember that while this combo of physical and mental exercise has been proven quite effective, it's one piece of the puzzle. Don't neglect treatment from a therapist and/or doctor, as well as any kind of medication they recommend.