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edited by katie barnes. email: katiebarnes@leisuremedia.com research round-up


Meditation and exercise could signifi cantly reduce sick days due to respiratory illnesses such as colds and the fl u, shows a new study


the cold war W


hile the common cold may be considered a mild illness, it costs society billions every year –


especially in terms of reduced workplace productivity due to days off sick. Previous scientific studies have


highlighted the fact that people who work out more or have lower stress levels aren’t as likely to get ill. But now research published in the Annals of Family Medicine in July* has also suggested that positive thinking – via mindfulness meditation – as well as exercise can result in less severe symptoms of acute respiratory illnesses (ARI), such as colds and influenza, or may even prevent them altogether.


a mindful study Dr Bruce Barrett, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, and his colleagues tested 149 participants aged 50 years and over by randomly assigning them to three groups. One group took part in an eight-week


meditation programme based on one 2.5-hour group session a week and daily, 45-minute at-home practice. The programme was based on mindfulness meditation – the idea that an increased awareness of your own body, thoughts and emotions may lead to a healthier mind-body response to stress. The second group underwent an


eight-week exercise programme: one 2.5-hour group session a week and 45 minutes’ moderate intensity physical activity every day – mostly workouts on stationary bikes, treadmills and other equipment during the group sessions, and brisk walking or jogging at home. The third group was a control group. The researchers then observed


participants from September to May – It’s thought the meditators and exercisers can better cope with cold symptoms


the US cold and fl u season. Via bi-weekly calls, they kept track of when people reported having a cold/fl u, the severity of symptoms, number of days’ work missed and number of visits to a doctor.


healthy results During observation, 40 bouts of ARI were reported in the control group, compared to only 27 cases in those who meditated and 26 in the exercise group. Meditators also reported less severe


symptoms. The symptoms were measured using the Wisconsin Upper Respiratory Symptom Survey, which rates 24 ailments – from a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat to headache/ congestion, body ache and fever – on a scale of 0–7 for severity. The symptoms weren’t singled out, but overall the average score in the meditation group was only 144, compared to 248 for


exercise participants and 358 in the control group. “I suspect this is because [meditators]


are better able to cope with the symptoms,” independent mindfulness researcher James Carmody told Reuters. “[With mindfulness] people learn to redirect their attention so they don’t stay stuck on unpleasant thoughts.” People in the exercise and meditation


groups felt sick for five days on average, while those in the control group felt sick for an average of nine days. Those in the meditation and exercise groups also took less ARI-related sick days off work during the study: the meditation group as a whole missed a combined total of only 16 days’ work due to ARI; the exercise group took 32 days off, and the control group 67 days. There was little difference in the number of doctor visits for ARI.


*Barrett, Bruce et al. Meditation or Exercise for Preventing Acute Respiratory Infection: A Randomized Controlled Trial The Annals of Family Medicine, July/August 2012 86 Read Health Club Management online at healthclubmanagement.co.uk/digital october 2012 © cybertrek 2012


DAVID MZAREULYAN / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM


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