A small study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison indicates that meditation and exercise significantly reduced the number of days people missed work due to colds or flu.
The results need to be confirmed but could add another tool to the prevention options available for respiratory illnesses. Currently, there is no vaccine for the common cold, and flu vaccines are only effective 60-70% of the time. The only other preventative measures available for the illnesses are hand washing and avoiding contact with infected persons.
While the common cold and most strains of the flu are considered mild by doctors, the estimated costs of them to a society run into billions of dollars annually. Working from a thesis that exercise and meditation could prevent illness, Dr. Bruce Barrett and his colleagues randomly assigned 149 patients into three groups; one group participated in an eight-week exercise training, one group participated in an eight-week meditation training and the third participated as a control and received no special instructions.
After the training periods were completed, the researchers tracked illness incidents in the groups through the cold and flu season. Of the 50 people in the control group, 40 got sick as opposed to 27 in the meditation group and 26 in the exercise group. Furthermore, the exercise and meditation groups reported feeling sick for an average of only five days, while the control group felt ill for nine. Exercise and meditation groups also missed less work.
The researchers speculate that exercise helped strengthen the immune systems of test subjects, while meditation left subjects better prepared to cope with the effects of illness.
Dr. Barrett stated, however, that the findings were preliminary and needed more study.