Science behind MAP Training

Neurons are the cells in the brain that make us who we are. Nearly 20 years ago now, Dr. Shors and her collaborator Dr. Gould discovered that mental training with learning could increase the survival of new neurons in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a part of the brain used for learning. We went on to show that these new cells were actually used for leanring. Around the same time, other neuroscientists discovered that physical training with aerobic exercise can increase neurons in the hippocampus. MAP Training is simply the combination of Mental And Physical Training --- i.e. MAP -- done together to enhance brain health.

MAP Training My BrainTM combines mental training through meditation and physical training through aerobic exercise. People have been training their brains with meditation for thousands of years, and have been exercising for more years than that (often not by choice!). Thousands of studies indicate that one or the other is good for the brain and body. But until now, no one had put them together into one intervention.

We don't exactly know why MAP Training works so well. We do know that it does work. Just 8 weeks of MAP Training (twice a week) decreased depression and ruminating thoughts, while increasing synchronized brain activity in men and women with major depression as well as healthy adults. We also know it reduced anxiety and ruminating thoughts in women with trauma history, while increasing their ability to use oxygen in the body. And importantly, just 6 weeks of MAP Training helped women recover from trauma memories associated with sexual violence.

We also know that many people all around the world are already doing it—groups in Maine and Maryland and even Hungary—thanks to the media spreading the word. People with depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and every day stress have been telling us the good news—MAP Training makes them feel good about who they are. And we have scientific data to support what they are saying.

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Mental training with Silent Meditation

There are many reasons to meditate. But our goal with meditation is to train the brain with new learning because we know learning increases brain function. Meditation is a process by which you learn to be present in this moment and to learn over and over again who you are. As you sit, you realize that you have the same thoughts over and over again. And you also attach feelings and emotions to those thoughts. It is good to learn this because once you do, you can let some of those attachments just go.

The other reason we chose meditation for MAP Training is because it is effortful. The best way challenge your brain is through concentrated effort. We knew this when we were young children in school but often forget to challenge our minds as adults. Each day is new and each time you sit down to meditate, you will be surrounded and sometimes drowned out by thoughts about the past and the future. Meditation is a good way to extinguish some of those old tired thoughts!

Physical Training with Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise depends on oxygen and increases oxygen uptake, which is normally measured by maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max). In contrast, anaerobic exercise is also physically intense but doesn't depend on oxygen. Types of aerobic exercises include running, swimming, and dancing, whereas anaerobic exercises include weight lifting and sprinting.

Aerobic exercise can increase the size of the heart and allow the heart to pump more blood, which is full of oxygen and nutrients. But aerobic exercise is especially good for the brain because it increases blood flow and the growth of new blood vessels. Aerobic exercise (but not anaerobic exercise) also creates new neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region necessary for new learning, as reported in laboratory studies. This is why we include aerobic exercise in MAP Training.

Of course, we all know that exercise is "good" for us, but we still don't always like to do it. However, after 30 minutes of meditation, you will want to get moving and blow off some steam! Trust me on this.

What We've Discovered So Far:

In general, MAP Training decreases symptoms of depression and rumination in both healthy and depressed young adults (Alderman et al., 2016). We also reported decreases in anxiety and increased in oxygen consumption in mothers with trauma history (Shors et al., 2014).

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This year, we published a paper reporting positive effects for women with trauma and a history of sexual violence. They reported fewer trauma-related and ruminative thoughts about the past, and an increase in self-worth (Shors et al., 2018). Importantly, we found that doing both meditation together was better than doing either activity on its own.

In the panel below, you can see a summary of the results. The checks mean the effects were significant. In yet another study, people who MAP Trained their brains reported an increase in their quality of life.

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Findings Published in Scientific Journals

  • NEW: Shors, T. J., Chang, H. Y. M., Millon, E. M. (2018). MAP Training My Brain™: Meditation plus aerobic exercise lessens trauma more than either activity alone. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12:211. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2018.00211
    Link to article.
  • Shors, T. J., Olson, R. L., Bates, M. E., Selby, E. A., & Alderman, B. L. (2014). Mental and Physical (MAP) Training: a neurogenesis-inspired intervention that enhances health in humans. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 115: 3–9. doi:10.1016/j.nlm.2014.08.012
    Link to article. [PDF]
  • Alderman, B. L., Olson, R. L., Brush, C. J., & Shors, T. J. (2016). MAP training: combining meditation and aerobic exercise reduces depression and rumination while enhancing synchronized brain activity. Translational Psychiatry, 6(2), e726. doi: 10.1038/tp.2015.225.
    Link to article.
  • Curlik D., & Shors, T.J. (2013). Training your brain: Do mental and physical (MAP) training enhance cognition through the process of neurogenesis in the hippocampus? Neuropharmacology, 64, 506-514. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2012.07.027.
    Link to article. [PDF]
  • Shors, T. J., & Millon, E. M. (2016). Sexual trauma and the female brain. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 41, 87-98. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2016.04.001
    Link to article. [PDF]