Exercise and meditation: best defence against cold and flu?

New research suggests that regular exercise and mindfulness meditation could be one of the best combinations for reducing acute respiratory infections. 

While most of us have time to spare for a flu vaccine, the study results might make you reconsider that morning jog, or that 10-minute yoga session that you can't seem to fit into the day.

Of the small study group, mostly comprised of white women, those who maintained a daily exercise regiment and mindful meditation practices missed fewer days of work. 

At the beginning of the study, all participants had little to no exercise regiment and did not practice meditation. Researchers broke up participants into three groups: those who kept their habits unchanged, those who started an eight-week regiment of exercise (i.e. 45 minutes on a treadmill or in the water), and those who practiced mindfulness meditation with yoga, stretching, and walking. 

Researchers followed the participants through a flu season, asking them to call when sick and journal their experiences. 

Dr. Bruce Barrett, the lead author of the study and associate professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, calls the results "remarkable." He reported a 40 to 50 per cent reduction in respiratory infections. 

There is no proven cause-and-effect relationship between exercise, meditation and the reduction of acute respiratory infections, which makes it less clear as to how mental and physical workouts can ward off sickness. But the study's numbers indicate that those participants who maintained a physical workout or meditation practice had fewer sick days than those who maintained no physical or mental exercise. 

Barrett attributes the results to mindfulness mediation allowing participants to reduce perceived stress, combined with physical workouts that stimulate the immune system. 

For full results of the study, you can read the U.S. News article here. 

MORE: our blogger Ed Halliwell gets into the science behind the study. 

07/15/12 updated 11/27/12

[photo © flickr.com/mcfarlandmo]