Excerpt of an article by Gretchen Reynolds |Well Blogs (New York Times)
Meditating before running could change the brain in ways that are more beneficial for mental health than practicing either of those activities alone, according to an interesting study of a new treatment program for people with depression.
As many people know from experience, depression is characterized in part by an inability to stop dwelling on gloomy thoughts and unhappy memories from the past. Researchers suspect that this thinking pattern, known as rumination, may involve two areas of the brain in particular: the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that helps to control attention and focus, and the hippocampus, which is critical for learning and memory. In some studies, people with severe depression have been found to have a smaller hippocampus than people who are not depressed.
Both meditation and exercise also have proven beneficial in the treatment of anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.
These various findings about exercise and meditation intrigued researchers at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., who began to wonder whether, since meditation and exercise on their own improve moods, combining the two might intensify the impacts of each.
For the study, which was published last month in Translational Psychiatry, the scientists recruited 52 men and women, 22 of whom had been given diagnoses of depression. The researchers confirmed that diagnosis with their own tests and then asked all of the volunteers to complete a computerized test of their ability to focus while sensors measured electrical signals in their brains.
There were significant changes from the test. The 22 volunteers with depression now had a 40 percent reduction in symptoms of the condition. They reported, in particular, much less inclination to ruminate over bad memories.
Meanwhile, the members of the healthy control group also reported feeling happier than they had at the start of the study.
Objectively, the volunteers’ results on the computerized tests of their ability to focus and their brain activity also were different. The group with depression now showed brain cell activity in their prefrontal cortex that was almost identical to that of the people without depression. They could concentrate much better and hone their attention, attributes that are believed to help reduce stubborn rumination.
Although results of the study show some impressive results, we need to keep in mind there were not very many participants in the study, and researchers did not follow participants after the study so we don’t know if the hybrid approach produces permanent improvement. In addition, the study did not address variations to determine if similar or even greater benefits might occur if someone were to run then meditate or to practice both activities on alternating days. Furthermore, the study did not indicate whether meditation and any other exercise produces even better results.
Thanks to the researchers at Rutgers University for creating the study and collecting the data; Translational Psychiatry for publishing the results of the study; Gretchen Reynolds for writing the article; New York Times and Well for committing their resources to the article; Google for helping me find the article; and all people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible to include the picture and text in this post.