Mental and Physical (MAP) Training: a neurogenesis-inspired intervention that enhances health in humans

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2014 Nov:115:3-9. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2014.08.012. Epub 2014 Sep 9.


New neurons are generated in the hippocampus each day and their survival is greatly enhanced through effortful learning (Shors, 2014). The numbers of cells produced can be increased by physical exercise (van Praag, Kempermann, & Gage, 1999). These findings inspired us to develop a clinical intervention for humans known as Mental and Physical Training, or MAP Training. Each session consists of 30min of mental training with focused attention meditation (20min sitting and 10min walking). Meditation is an effortful training practice that involves learning about the transient nature of thoughts and thought patterns, and acquiring skills to recognize them without necessarily attaching meaning and/or emotions to them. The mental training component is followed by physical training with 30min of aerobic exercise performed at moderate intensity. During this component, participants learn choreographed dance routines while engaging in aerobic exercise. In a pilot "proof-of-concept" study, we provided supervised MAP Training (2 sessions per week for 8weeks) to a group of young mothers in the local community who were recently homeless, most of them having previously suffered from physical and sexual abuse, addiction, and depression. Preliminary data suggest that MAP Training improves dependent measures of aerobic fitness (as assessed by maximal rate of oxygen consumed) while decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Similar changes were not observed in a group of recently homeless women who did not participate in MAP Training. It is not currently possible to determine whether new neurons in the human brain increase in number as a result of MAP Training. Rather these preliminary results of MAP Training illustrate how neuroscientific research can be translated into novel clinical interventions that benefit human health and wellness.

Keywords: Abuse; Anxiety; Depression; Exercise; Hippocampus; Meditation; Mindfulness; Trauma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Meditation* / methods
  • Meditation* / psychology
  • Mental Health
  • Neurogenesis / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy
  • Young Adult