Meditation, Exercise Can Help Reduce Common Cold, Flu Symptoms
MADISON—Some walking shoes or a yoga mat for meditation could be your best weapons against colds and flu, according to a new study by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
The study, published in this month's Annals of Family Medicine, shows that people older than 50 involved in mindfulness training can reduce the incidence, duration or severity of acute respiratory infections (ARI) by 40 to 50 percent and the use of exercise can reduce symptoms by 30 to 40 percent. Both study groups were compared with a third control group that did not meditate or exercise.
According to lead author Dr. Bruce Barrett, a family medicine physician and associate professor at the School of Medicine and Public Health, 149 older adults completed the study with 51 in the mediation group, 47 in the exercise group, and 51 in the control group.
"They were all well, then got eight weeks of training in mindfulness meditation, exercise or neither (control group) and then were followed throughout the cold and flu season," he said. "A lot of previous information suggested that meditation and exercise might have ARI- preventing benefits, but no high-quality randomized trial had been done."
The participants were observed for cold and flu symptoms such as a runny nose, stuffiness, sneezing, and sore throat. Nasal wash samples were collected and analyzed three days after the symptoms began.
The results showed the meditation group had 27 ARI episodes totaling 257 days of illness and the exercise group had 26 ARI episodes with 241 total days of illness. However, the control group reported 40 ARI episodes and 453 illness days. The meditation and exercise groups also missed fewer days of work due to ARI illnesses than the control group.
"Nothing has previously been shown to prevent ARI," said Barrett. "Flu shots are partially effective, but only work for three strains of flu each year. The apparent 40 to 50 percent benefit of mindfulness training is a very important finding, as is the apparent 30 to 40 percent benefit of exercise training. If this pans out in future research, the impact could be substantive indeed."
The study was funded by a grant from the National Institutes for Health (NIH). Barrett says his group has just received funding to do a similar study with a group of 400 people who are 30 to 70 years old.
For more information, call Mike Klawitter; UW Health Public Affairs at (608) 265-8199