Meditation and exercise may minimize the occurrence, length and severity of the flu or common cold, according to preliminary findings of a new study.
“The bottom line is both the mental health and physical health matter in helping improve (the) flu and cold,” said physician Bruce Barrett, author of the study and associate professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison medical school’s department of family medicine.
In addition to taking typical precautions to prevent colds, he said, regular exercise and meditation may help.
“If it turns out to be true, it’s a bigger deal than flu shots,” said Barrett.
The study included 149 individuals split into three groups. The first group practiced mindfulness meditation for eight weeks, the second group did moderate-intensity exercise for the same amount of time and the third group acted as a control.
Those in the meditation group focused on becoming aware of their senses, emotions and thoughts during a 45-minute daily practice and weekly two-and-a-half-hour group sessions. The exercise group walked briskly and jogged daily for 45 minutes as well as in their two-and-a-half-hour weekly workouts, which included moderately intensive exercise on stationary bicycles and treadmills.
Participants who meditated on a regular basis reported a combined total of 257 days of the common cold or flu; people who exercised regularly reported a total of 241 days of illness; and the control group had 453 days in which they had cold and flu symptoms.
During the eight-month study, the meditating group had only missed 16 days of work due to the flu or common cold, followed by the exercise group at 32. Those in the control group missed 67 days.
Participants self-reported their illness episodes with a scale that required at least two of the following symptoms: a runny nose, a plugged nose, sneezing or a scratchy throat.
The meditation group reported 27 illness episodes, the exercise group had 26 episodes and the control group reported 40 episodes. Illness severity was measured through a daily survey, which documents symptoms such as headaches, body aches and fever. During each illness, nasal wash was collected; there were no statistical differences between each group.
Although other research points to exercise as a way to improve immune function and fight off infection, the use of meditation for this reason had remained inconclusive, Barrett said.
The study was published this month in the Annals of Family Medicine.
Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison