Regular aerobic exercise is known for producing happy hormones, but what does that mean for someone with clinical depression? Can the positive effects of aerobic exercise bring light and life to someone who has a condition that grips them in darkness?
Most psychologists already prescribe regular aerobic exercise to help clinically depressed patients improve somewhat on their own. But what they are just now realizing is that when exercise is combined with another activity, it produces even greater results! And that activity is meditation.
What is the link between the aerobic exercise and meditation combo and thinking fewer negative thoughts or worrying less?
The mere physical act of meditating requires the brain to learn new skills in how it processes thought, meaning the brain is being stimulated, specifically the hypothalamus region in the brain. Activating this area of the brain helps a person in depression process information and better manage their difficult thoughts and memories.
Aerobic exercise provides the benefit of adding neurons in the hippocampus region of the brain, which also plays a role in learning new skills. Learning new skills also helps keep brain cells alive.
It is not recommended that these two practices replace medical treatment, rather it is suggested that aerobic exercise and meditation be added to improve the results of treatment as well as add to the quality of health and overall daily life.
How much aerobic exercise would accomplish this? A recent study found that even just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise two times per week and 30 minutes of meditation two times per week for two months can make a 40 percent reduction in depression symptoms! Other studies have reported that the exercise works better the higher the intensity, although the difference in percentages of decreased symptoms between a high or low intensity aerobic program had only minor significance.
The goal is to increase aerobic capacity in the process. If you start at a low volume; 10 minutes per day, for example, you will want to be able to increase that to 30 minutes within 1-2 months. Examples of types of aerobic exercise include walking, cycling, hiking, rowing, zumba, boxing/kick-boxing, or anything else you enjoy with levels of intensity that can be increased.
One word of caution is that a person does not focus on achieving an absurd volume of exercise and meditation as though it would eventually magically cure them swiftly and completely. The point of the discussion is to get people moving who otherwise are not, without giving the illusion that obsessive exercise and meditation is the ultimate goal.
That said, the problem is more likely that a person with clinical depression has a lack of motivation. If this is you, you suffer from fatigue, low self-esteem, indecisiveness, poor sleep, or anxiety, which make taking up a new program daunting. So, try to recruit a friend or acquaintance who can join and encourage.
If that doesn’t work, hire a fitness professional with experience training people with depression. Experienced trainers should not only be able to instruct you in workouts, but they should seek to consult you as well, in order to learn your readiness for behavioral change, to ask questions that guide you to find your motivation, and to then coach you appropriately.
In summary, if you are suffering clinical depression, the aerobic exercise and medication is likely a recipe that can help you. I don’t have the tips for meditation, but you can do some research and find ideas. If you’re worried you can’t stick to the program, but you realize it is good for you, set a small goal, for example to walk 10 minutes, 3 times next week and meditate a few times. After you finish that, set another goal. Slowly you’ll see yourself sticking to goals and your confidence will increase. I wish you all the best!