In regards to life, one of the most interesting phenomena, is the power of synergy. A simple explanation of synergy is when 1+1 does not equal 2, but something much greater. In terms of our health, what the research shows is a tremendous synergetic effect between diet, lifestyle, attitude, and supplementation.
The influence of synergy makes complete sense, but it is often difficult to truly measure the effects of two or more factors. Recently, researchers at Rutgers University showed quite convincingly the greater effect of the combination of regular exercise and meditation. They chose to evaluate these two lifestyle interventions in boosting mood, as well as enhancing brain activity, as prior studies have shown that each was very effective as a solo therapy. This study is the first to examine the two therapies in combination and the results were quite impressive.
There is a revolution occurring in conventional medicine regarding what is the best treatment for depression. Since the introduction of antidepressant drugs, especially the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and similar drugs, the focus has been on the reliance on these drugs to improve mood. However, there is growing scientific documentation that these drugs are not very effective in most cases and even when they are helpful, their benefit does not stand up to time and nearly everyone relapses.
A number of natural approaches to depression have been shown to be very effective in not only boosting mood, but also overall brain function as well. Nutritional therapies, botanical medicine, various forms of psychotherapy and lifestyle interventions, have all been shown to be effective.
In regards to regular exercise and meditation, individually both have been shown to boost mood in clinical trials. In addition, population based studies have shown both are associated with higher mood states, greater self confidence and self-esteem, as well as other positive associations to quality of life.
The Rutgers’ study consisted of 52 young adults, 22 with clinical depression. The volunteers participated in an 8-week training program consisting of meditating for 30 minutes twice a week followed by running on a treadmill for 30 minutes. During the meditation, the young adults focused their thoughts inward and paid close attention to their breathing, immediately afterward. The first 5 minutes on the treadmill consisted of a warmup followed by running fast enough to maintain the heart rate at 50-70% of the maximum.
At the end of the 8-week program, the individuals with clinical depression reported significantly less depressive symptoms, anxiety, and negative thoughts especially ruminations about the past. An overall response rate of a 40% reduction in depression was observed in these subjects. The other participants also reported less depressive symptoms by the end of the program.
All subjects experienced improvements in cognitive function tests as well as increased brain response to external stimuli.
The results of this study are significant. The researchers believe that the combination of exercise and meditation exerts multiple mechanisms, ultimately beneficial to brain health, including the development of new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis.
Okay, so exercise combined with meditation help with mood and brain function. What sort of results might we see if a program also included dietary guides, nutritional and herbal supplementation, and other natural approaches? I think the results would be incredible and that is exactly what my clinical experience has been.
In a previous newsletter, click here, I reviewed a double-blind study with fish oil supplementation in younger adults with significant depression. In the subjects who took the fish oil (1.4 g EPA+DHA), 67% of the subjects no longer met criteria for being depressed, while only 20% in the placebo group were no longer depressed. Those are impressive results.
The bottom line is that the use of antidepressant drugs in depression is a failed, outdated model. There are safe and effective natural approaches. And, the more of these approaches you can combine, the better the results. That is the power of synergy.
For more information, see Depression in the Health Conditions section.
Alderman BL, Olson RL, Brush CJ, Shors TJ. MAP training: combining meditation and aerobic exercise reduces depression and rumination while enhancing synchronized brain activity. Translational Psychiatry (2016) 6, e726; doi:10.1038/tp.2015.225