Meditation or exercise for preventing acute respiratory infection: A randomized controlled trial

Bruce Barrett, Mary S. Hayney, Daniel Muller, David Rakel, Ann Ward, Chidi N. Obasi, Roger Brown, Zhengjun Zhang, Aleksandra Zgierska, James Gern, Rebecca West, Tola Ewers, Shari Barlow, Michele Gassman, Christopher L. Coe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


PURPOSE: This study was designed to evaluate potential preventive effects of meditation or exercise on incidence, duration, and severity of acute respiratory infection (ARI) illness. METHODS: Community-recruited adults aged 50 years and older were randomized to 1 of 3 study groups: 8-week training in mindfulness meditation, matched 8-week training in moderate-intensity sustained exercise, or observational control. The primary outcome was area-under-the-curve global illness severity during a single cold and influenza season, using the Wisconsin Upper Respiratory Symptom Survey (WURSS-24) to assess severity. Health care visits and days of missed work were counted. Nasal wash collected during ARI illness was assayed for neutrophils, interleukin-8, and viral nucleic acid. RESULTS: Of 154 adults randomized into the study, 149 completed the trial (82% female, 94% white, mean age 59.3 ± 6.6 years). There were 27 ARI episodes and 257 days of ARI illness in the meditation group (n = 51), 26 episodes and 241 illness days in the exercise group (n = 47), and 40 episodes and 453 days in the control group (n = 51). Mean global severity was 144 for meditation, 248 for exercise, and 358 for control. Compared with control, global severity was significantly lower for meditation (P =.004). Both global severity and total days of illness (duration) trended toward being lower for the exercise group (P =.16 and P =.032, respectively), as did illness duration for the meditation group (P =.034). Adjusting for covariates using zero-infated multivariate regression models gave similar results. There were 67 ARI-related days of-work missed in the control group, 32 in the exercise group (P =.041), and 16 in the meditation group (P <. 0 0 1). Health care visits did not differ significantly. Viruses were identified in 54% of samples from meditation, 42% from exercise, and 54% from control groups. Neutrophil count and interleukin-8 levels were similar among intervention groups. CONCLUSIONS Training in meditation or exercise may be effective in reducing ARI illness burden.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-346
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of family medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Family Practice


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