According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), depression (or Major Depressive Disorder) is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. among people aged 15 to 44. In a given year, depression affects roughly 6,7% of the U.S. population, or more than 15 million American adults aged 18 and older.
It has been hypothesized that depression is correlated to the creation of new nerves in our brains, which in the case of depression is lowered. This neurogenesis hypothesis is what scientists used as a basis for a research in which they tested how a combination of two commonly prescribed activities for depression can positively affect its reversal.
In their research, published in Translational Psychology, the scientists involved 52 individuals, 22 of whom were diagnosed with a major depressive disorder (MDD), while the rest were non-depressive.
After the brain scans, which showed that the participants suffering from MDD exhibited brain activity associated with poor concentration and focus, the groups were given two tasks:
- 30 minutes of focused attention meditation, in which the participants were instructed to focus on their breathing all the way to the end.
- 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise.
These activities were repeated twice a week for 8 weeks.
As the study notes, meditation and aerobic exercise have been long deemed useful for the treatment of depression. However, the combination of the both has not been assessed by any study so far.
What they found after the 8-week program was that the participants suffering from depression showed a 40% reduction in their symptoms and their brain activity increased greatly. Not only did the depressed participants feel improvements, but also the nondepressed participants reported to have felt much better and positive after the program.
The reason behind these results lies in the neurogenetic processes that are triggered by the physical activity, namely the aerobics exercises, and reinforced by the meditative practice, which helped the newly formed cells to differentiate into mature neurons.
Although the study was done on a small sample and didn’t follow up on the long-term effects of the program on the participants, it promises a new approach to the treatment of depression.
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