How Running & Meditation can stop depression.

How Running & Meditation can stop depression.

bg_runner In 2007, writer Jen A. Miller went through a terrible breakup.

(Her ex’s parting words: “I’ll keep you in the top eight of my Myspace friends.”) Soon afterward, her grandfather died. Soon after that, she bought a house and signed the paperwork just months before the recession hit. “I did not handle this well,” Miller wrote in a widely shared 2014 column headlined “Running As Therapy” for the New York Times. “As I was helping my mother pack up her parents’ house, I found myself too drained to move and lay down on the floor and sobbed. My mother suggested I try therapy. I signed up for a 10-mile race instead.”

That column could be seen as an early draft of Miller’s memoir, Running: A Love Story, which is out this week. In it, she details her lifelong relationship with the sport. She says the simple act of putting one foot in front of another over 10, 15, or 26.2 miles brought back her mental clarity. In her book, Miller distances herself from the Times headline. She writes that she “probably should have sought professional help.” And she doesn’t mean to suggest self-care is an adequate treatment for the depressed. And it’s true that many severely depressed people are so ill that physical activity becomes impossible. It is also true that seeking professional help is crucial for those who struggle with mental-health issues.

But it is also true that for many people who are depressed, physical activity, and running in particular, helps tremendously.

Now an intriguing line of research is suggesting some thing new. For some, a combination of physical and mental training — called MAP training — may provide substantial help to those with major depressive disorder. Studies have already suggested that physical activity can play a powerful role in reducing depression; newer, separate research is showing that meditation does, too. Now some exercise scientists and neuroscientists believe there may be a uniquely powerful benefit in combining the two. In one study, published last week in the Nature journal Translational Psychiatry, a team led by Brandon Alderman at Rutgers University found that MAP training reduced depressive symptoms in a group of young people with major depressive disorder, and by an impressive margin — 40 percent on average, their data show.

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