The flu virus is blamed for approximately 36,000 deaths and 500,000 hospitalizations in the United States every year, and illnesses caused by viruses such as the one responsible for the common cold are responsible for approximately forty million days of missed work and school every year. While these statistics are quite substantial, there may be safe and natural preventative measures to help alleviate the severity of the flu season. A recent study published in the Annals of Family Medicine compared the preventative effects of moderate exercise and mindful meditation (which focuses on paying attention to your body and emotions) on the severity of respiratory infections during a winter season in Wisconsin.
The study consisted of mostly women who were not previously participating in meditation or moderate exercise more than once a week. The participants were divided into three equal-sized groups: one third did not change their habits, one third began an eight-week program of moderate exercise for forty-five minutes a day along with weekly training sessions, and the remainder of the participants spent the same amount of time engaging in mindfulness meditation, such as yoga.
This study found those who participated in a daily exercise regimen had fewer instances of respiratory infections and as a result, missed less work (a total of 241 days sick and 26 episodes of respiratory infections). The results of the study also showed those doing mindfulness meditation were also less likely to get sick (257 days sick and 27 episodes of respiratory infection). These results were in comparison to the group who did not participate in any program (453 days sick and 40 cases of respiratory infections). The exercise group lost thirty-two days of work due to illness, the meditation group missed sixteen days of work, and the inactive group missed a total of sixty-seven days from work. While the results are promising, it is still unclear how the physical and mental workouts prevented sickness.
“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. The results of this study suggest that both exercise and meditation can be a beneficial preventative measure for sickness during the flu season. “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.
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