Running and meditation, most of us have heard of the great benefits that these activities offer individually but what about the magic created when the two are combined ?
Great things happen when you combine running and meditation
- running is a fantastic way to boost production of new neurons in the brain
- ordinarily these new neurons don’t last very long but when you add meditation into the mix, something interesting happens
- just two sessions of meditation and running a week produced fantastic results
- 52 young adults (22 with major depressive disorder) participated in the 8 week study, those with depression reported a a massive 40% reduction in their depressive symptoms.
What physical and mental training was used?
The training was a combination of mental and physical training or MAP for short.
The meditation component
The meditation element of the training used a focused attention practice. Referred to as FA meditation, participants sat in silence in a cross-legged or other comfortable upright position. For the meditation practice, participants were instructed to focus attention on the breath, participants were encouraged to count each breath if they found that helpful for maintaining focus on the breath. When participants found themselves drifting off to thoughts about the past or future, they were instructed to just recognise this change whilst returning their attention to the breath. Repeating this practice enabled participants to appreciate the transient nature of thoughts and develop their ability to monitor and accept moment-to-moment changes in attention.
After 20 min of this seated meditation, participants were given a more active focused attention meditation of 10 min of slow, mindful walking. Participants were asked to focus their attention on their feet as they moved from one foot to the other in a slow walk with other participants. This 10 min walking meditation session also a helped return blood flow to the extremities before the next session of physical exercise began. Immediately following the meditation session, participants prepared for the physical exercise component.
The running component
For the physical exercise, participants performed aerobic exercise at a moderate intensity for 30 min. Following a 5-min warm-up, participants exercised on a treadmill. Trained staff supervised the sessions and monitored intensity by assessing heart rate levels during the exercise. Participants engaged in a 5 min cool down following the session.
- All participants improved their ability to maintain their attention against distraction
- All participants reported a decrease in depressive symptoms
- The group experiencing major depressive disorder reported a 40% decrease in depressive symptoms.
- In a previous, smaller study, of the MAP effect a group of participants who were homeless young mothers with a history of depression, addiction and physical or sexual abuse reported an even greater decrease in depressive symptoms following the MAP intervention.
Why is the combination of running and meditation so powerful?
The why aspect is an area for further study but researchers think the combination of meditation and running together is so powerful because 1) running may increase the firing of new neurons in the brain and b) meditation may help these neurons fire together, supporting participants to develop new skills which enabled them to focus attention away from negative rumination on the past and instead focus on the present.
How you can put the research into practice – meditation
- Sit in silence in a cross-legged or other comfortable upright position.
- Focus attention on the breath. Count each breath if that helps to maintain focus on the breath.
- If your attention drifts to thoughts about the past or future, just acknowledge this change of attention and return your attention to your breathing once more.
- Maintain this practice for 20 minutes.
- Repeating this practice will enable you to appreciate the transient nature of thoughts and develop your ability to monitor and accept moment-to-moment changes in attention.
- After 20 min of this seated meditation prepare to practice a 10 min of mindful-walking meditation:
- Focus your attention on your feet as you move from one foot to the other in a slow walk
- This 10 min walking meditation session continues the focus attention practice whilst also returning blood flow to your extremities.
How you can put the research into practice – running
- Immediately following this meditation session, prepare for the physical exercise part of your MAP training.
- 5 min warm up.
- Spend 30 mins running at a moderate level of intensity.
- 5 min cool down.