Mental and physical training for depression treatment


The blues are one thing – depressive disorders are something else. With symptoms that last for more than two weeks, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance reports that 14.8 million Americans are affected by major depressive disorder. It’s a condition that often co-occurs with other diseases such as cancer, heart attacks and strokes. And although depression responds well to professional treatment, the National Institute of Mental Health says that only around half of affected Americans ever receive treatment.

Studies have shown that meditation is beneficial in treating mood disorders and pain. Additional studies have shown that aerobic exercises like running seem to have genuine mental benefits. When combined, the two exercises seem to be a powerfully effective way to treat depression. This is the rationale behind mental and physical training (MAP), an emerging clinical tool.

MAP is a clinical intervention that combines mediation and aerobic exercise. Developed by researchers at Rutgers University, MAP sessions start with a half-hour of mental training. Twenty minutes are spent engaged in focused attention meditation while sitting, and 10 minutes are spent walking. Afterwards, participants engage in moderately intense aerobic exercise for a half hour.

MAP-ing treatment for depression

Rutgers researchers examined MAP’s benefits in 2015. They selected their subjects, some of whom were diagnosed with major depressive disorder, from a campus mental health clinic. The participants spent a half hour engaged in sitting and walking meditation, after which they exercised on either a treadmill or stationary bike for an additional 30 minutes.

After eight weeks of MAP, the researchers found their subjects showed a nearly 40 percent decline in the symptoms of depression. What’s more, even the subjects who weren’t diagnosed with major depressive disorder also noted a decrease in symptoms.

Exercise has practical benefits

According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s three ways exercise likely helps with depression:

  • Exercise releases endorphins, which are brain chemicals released during exercise and stress. Endorphins can create feelings of pleasure and euphoria, and some studies have investigated their potential role in pain management.
  • Exercise reduces chemicals in the immune system which can contribute to depression.
  • Exercise raises the body’s temperature, which the Mayo Clinic says may have calming effects.

Additionally, exercise boosts confidence, occupies the mind with something other than worries and allows for greater social interaction with others. Finally, exercise helps improve body image.

However, it’s important to remember exercise by itself often isn’t enough on its own.

The jury’s still out in some cases

In 2012, researchers from the United Kingdom’s universities of Bristol, Exeter and the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry examined 361 patients who had recently been diagnosed with depression. The patients, aged 18 to 69, were split up into two groups, one that only received depression treatment and one that received a combination of physical activity and depression treatment.

Results from the study found exercise provided no added benefit over regular treatment. Patients in the group who received both exercise and normal depression treatment did not report faster improvements in mood, or reduced use of antidepressants than the group who only received treatment.

Left untreated, depressive disorders can lead individuals into substance abuse for relief: The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that around 20 percent of Americans with a mood disorder also have an alcohol or substance use disorder. White River Academy’s therapeutic boarding school in rural Utah provides a safe, stable treatment environment for boys aged 12 to 17. Our staff of professionals create personalized, effective treatment programs for their students, allowing them to become the people they were always intended to be. For more information, please contact their 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Brian Moore is a  20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. 

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