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Study finds a combination of meditation and aerobic exercise can help women after trauma


Meditation and aerobic exercise are two very different wellness practices. But a recent study found that combining them could help women who have suffered from sexual violence recover from trauma.

The study

A research team at Rutgers University investigating methods that might help women recover from sexual violence, which they say affects 25 percent of women worldwide, decided to conduct a study focused on mental and physical exercise. Their results, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, indicate that 20 minutes of meditation, immediately followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, yields positive outcomes.

If you’ve always wanted to try meditation, use this guide to get started

Methods and results

The researchers divided 105 subjects into four groups of roughly the same size. One group served as the controls and did no training, while the other three met for training sessions twice a week for six weeks. Of those groups, one group did only meditation. One group did only exercise (30 minutes of treadmill or elliptical workouts or an aerobics class, which raised participants’ heart rates to 60 to 80 percent of maximum). One group did a combination of the two, which the researchers call MAP Training My Brain (MAP stands for mental and physical). One-third of the subjects were victims of sexual violence.

Meditation and exercise each provided independent benefits but were much more effective when combined into an hour-long session. “Women with a history of sexual violence reported significantly fewer trauma-related thoughts, and a 30 percent increase in self-worth,” lead author Tracey Shors says.

Recommended action

To reduce stress and increase feelings of self-worth, consider combining quiet meditation and aerobic exercise. (As a bonus, the exercise activity will also improve aerobic fitness, which increased 40 percent in study participants.)

According to the Rutgers team, you need to remember only three words: sit, walk, sweat. First, practice 20 minutes of thought-cleansing Zen-like meditation. Then, walk for 10 minutes as a warm-up before engaging in 30 minutes of an aerobic activity of your choice — the important part is to work out at 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate.

“There appears to be a synergistic effect of the two activities” write the study authors. “We speculate that the aerobic exercise, because it increases blood flow to the brain, consolidates the learning” from meditation. For more info, visit MAP Training My Brain.

Amby Burfoot is a freelance writer and editor and a member of the Running Hall of Fame. His most recent book is “Run Forever: Your Complete Guide to Healthy Lifetime Running.”

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