A combination of meditation and aerobic exercise can help reduce symptoms of depression, a new study suggests. Researchers at Rutgers University have reported that twice-weekly sessions of exercise and practicing meditation for eight weeks cut symptoms of depression among a group of students by 40 percent. The investigators recruited 22 students diagnosed with depression and 30 mentally healthy students for the study. All agreed to perform 30 minutes of focused attention meditation followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise twice a week. They were instructed to focus on their breathing if their thoughts drifted to the past or future. The goal was to enable students with depression to accept moment-to-moment changes in attention. The researchers reported that the program helped students with major depressive disorder avoid being overwhelmed by problems or negative thoughts. The same combination of meditation and exercise also benefitted a group of formerly homeless young mothers with severe symptoms of depression and high levels of anxiety. The women, who were living in a residential treatment center when the study began, reported that their depression and anxiety had eased and they felt more motivated and better able to focus more positively on their lives after completing the eight-week program. This study was the first to combine meditation and exercise to address depression.
My take? These study results are welcome news. I have long recommended physical activity as the most reliable method for immediate, symptomatic treatment of depression. Numerous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of a daily workout for improving emotional health and boosting self-confidence. I recommend 30 minutes of continuous activity, at least five days a week for best results. I’m also a strong advocate of meditation, as well as breathing exercises, as part of an integrative approach to addressing mild to moderate depression.