Prevent the Flu with Meditation

A little mindfulness will go a long way in keeping you healthy

Woman meditating

Besides getting your flu shot, it seems like there’s not much else to do to protect yourself from getting sick, short of wearing a surgical mask or avoiding all public spaces. But as it turns out, meditation may be able to give you extra security against the flu.

Research published in the Annals of Family Medicine found that meditating daily can potentially reduce the occurrence and duration of an acute respiratory infection (ARI). The flu is the most extreme form of an ARI. In the study, people who meditated daily contracted the flu at a 33% lower rate and people who exercised at a 29% lower rate than the control group.

The reason behind meditation’s effectiveness isn’t known yet. But it may have something to do with mindfulness, or an increased overall awareness that helps people engage directly in day-to-day life, says study author Bruce Barrett, MD, PhD, a professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “By just practicing mindful meditation, participants learned how to deal with symptoms and, as a result, didn’t feel them as much,” he says. Sure, there’s tissue for a runny nose, and hot tea with honey for a sore throat. But by simply being aware of flu symptoms, and the possibility that they are not as bad as they seem, you can beat illness to some extent.

“People should incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives, not because our study proves beyond reasonable doubt that it works in preventing ARIs, but because there seems to be a benefit,” Dr. Barrett says. “There are tons of different studies supporting the positive effects of mindful meditation on health, and even if they’re not necessarily conclusive, there is never any evidence of harm."

So how do you add mindfulness into your life? It can be just sitting and being aware of your breath to meditate, but it’s also about focusing in any given situation. When you’re exercising, pay attention to bodily sensations for those 10 to 60 minutes. Right now, as you’re reading this, take a short moment to tune into your thoughts and emotions. Try this every day and notice if you feel differently about your body (and if you’re getting sick less often!).