New research shows regular exercise or meditation may be among the best ways to reduce acute respiratory infections, such as the common cold or flu, according to a study published in the July/August issue of Annals of Family Medicine, HealthDay reported.
Researchers studied 149 active and sedentary adults aged 50 and older, to compare the preventative effects of moderate exercise and mindful meditation on the severity of respiratory infections. They found those participants who started a daily exercise routine had fewer bouts of respiratory infections and missed fewer days of work, and those doing mindfulness meditation were more protected against illness.
“The results are remarkable; we saw a 40 to 50 percent reduction in respiratory infections,” said Dr. Bruce Barrett, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the lead author of the study.
While the study uncovered an association between the mind and body activities and less instances of illness, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
“My thinking is that mindfulness meditation would reduce perceived stress and that exercise would work through more physiological pathways [to improve] the immune system,” Barrett said in the report.
The study involved mostly white women who were not already meditating or doing moderate exercise more than once a week, and they were broken into three groups – no change to habits; an eight-week program of moderate exercise, such as running or biking; and only mindfulness meditation, which included yoga, stretching, walking and other activities.
During the cold and flu season, the results showed those who meditated had 27 episodes of acute respiratory illness and a combined total of 257 days of illness; those who exercised had 241 sick days and 26 episodes; and those who did not change their habits had 40 episodes and 453 sick days.
The meditation group lost 16 days of work to illness, the exercise group lost 32, and the group that did not change their habits missed 67 days.
The numbers all suggested that exercise and meditation reduce respiratory illness, Barrett said. “This trial convinced me that they worked,” he explained.
The study also suggested that when individuals in the meditation group did fall ill, they seemed to suffer less and feel sick for less amount of time.