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Mind & Body: Benefits of Meditation and Exercise

There are a lot of excuses people give for not seeking treatment when they are suffering, or for putting it off for a long time in the hope that it will either go away on its own, or they will find a way to control it over time.

Many people suffering from PTSD, anxiety, or depression will benefit from standard treatments, which typically involve some form of psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two together.

For some, however, dealing with those mental and emotional concerns already makes them feel out of control, and handing control over to someone else to determine what is best to treat your condition can cause a sense of even more reliance on others, and a feeling of hopelessness in your ability to help yourself through your pain.

The fact is that people who suffer from any of these conditions often suffer from more than just one of them. Almost half of those who have major depression also have to work through anxiety, and people with PTSD, considered by some to be a form of anxiety issue, are especially prone to depression as well, according to the National Institute of Health (NIMH).

If this is what the majority of the population deals with, those who have been in combat or are first responders and see trauma on a more regular basis are definitely at risk for co-occurring issues that need to be treated.

You need individualized treatment that looks at any other co-occurring issues and treats them together. There are many factors that can complicate matters and need to be considered when determining the best course of treatment:

  • genetic predisposition
  • the number of issues being treated
  • personality type
  • type of trauma
  • length of exposure to trauma
  • period of time suffering from one of these conditions
  • support systems or lack thereof
  • brain injuries

Studies on Exercise and Meditation to Treat These Issues

Luckily, there are methods for treating the symptoms, and even changing response to stressors over time, that don’t require any outside intervention, if that is your preference. The important thing is to seek some form of treatment, whether you give in and trust doctors with experience in the field or prefer to take matters into your own hands.

meditate for mental healthStudies have long shown the benefits of either exercise or meditation on the way people suffering from these concerns are able to cope and recover. Relaxation methods, such as meditation, ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety, while exercise is proven to release endorphins which help you feel better and relax.

A study in 2016 researched the use of transcendental meditation on the need for medication in people living with PTSD. After only one month, 83.7% of the participants practicing this meditation style had stabilized, completely stopped, or reduced their use of medications required to treat their PTSD symptoms.

Within the last decade, however, there has been increased interest and research on the efficacy of using both of these together to treat people with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or any combination of those diagnoses. While there is not yet empirical evidence, it seems almost self-evident that if either of these alone can help, the two together should help at least as much.

One study found that meditation and aerobic exercise used together as a treatment option was able to reduce symptoms of depression by 40%, and, at a minimum, can improve results when used as a tertiary treatment along with more standard options of therapy and medication.

The researchers who conducted the study at Rutgers University believe that when the two treatments are used together in a regimen, they have a synergistic effect, meaning more significant benefits for the patient.

It is thought that the two activities benefit the same areas of the brain that are often affected in depressed or anxious people, the prefrontal cortex, and the hippocampus.

The method of meditation used for the study focuses on attention, where the practitioner sits still with their eyes closed and focuses on counting from 1-10 with their breathing. They are trained that if they realize their mind has been wandering, they are not to judge themselves, but begin again at the number one.

Over time the participants are able to focus longer and longer.

The full regimen included two sessions each week for a period of two months where they started with this focused meditation for 20 minutes, then spent 10 minutes of walking meditation where one focuses instead on each footfall and the sensations of walking, then they spent another 30 minutes on a stationary bike of treadmill getting aerobic exercise.

In the end, the researchers found that the depressed participants had new brain cell activity in their prefrontal cortex that was almost the same as those who do not suffer from depression. They also hypothesize that starting with meditation may have made it easier for participants to engage in aerobic activity because it shifted their focus from “how long do I have to do this,” to a more mindful and pleasant experience when exercising.

Taking Your Next Breath – And Your Next Step

While no studies have yet proven the benefits of meditation and exercise together in treatment of these often emotionally crippling conditions, there is enough research on each individually to suggest a strong correlation between the efficacy of each in helping to ease the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Many may be skeptical of the benefits of meditation, but the great news is that you can try it all alone, wherever and whenever you want, without any onlookers, witnesses or intervention.

It is essential, though, to try everything available to you in the treatment of your condition until you find the one, or several, options that work for you. If therapy or medication, or the two together, has been working for you – no need to look further.

But if you are the type of person who likes to feel in control of your future, your mind and your body, or who simply doesn’t want to take medication, these could be the perfect solutions for you.

Based on your level of comfort – talk to your physician about some of these options outside of psychotherapy and medication, or join a class near you to learn meditation. Or do some research on the internet and bring meditation to you. Add some exercise, and see for yourself whether or not the two together are a solution for you and your specific situation.

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