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This article is part of the supplement: Scientific Abstracts Presented at the International Research Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health 2012

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P02.36. Meditation or exercise for preventing acute respiratory infection: a randomized controlled trial

B Barrett*, D Rakel, M Hayney, D Muller, A Zgierska, C Obasi, T Ewers, R West, R Brown, Z Zhang, M Gassman, S Barlow and C Coe

  • * Corresponding author: B Barrett

Author Affiliations

University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012, 12(Suppl 1):P92  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-12-S1-P92

The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at:

Published:12 June 2012

© 2012 Barrett et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This study was designed to evaluate potential preventive effects of meditation or exercise on incidence, duration, and severity of acute respiratory infection (ARI) illness.


Community-recruited adults aged ≥ 50 years were randomized to one of three conditions: 8-week training in mindfulness meditation; matched 8-week training in moderate intensity sustained exercise; or wait-list observational control. The primary outcome was area-under-the-curve global illness severity over one cold and flu season, using the Wisconsin Upper Respiratory Symptom Survey (WURSS-24) to assess severity. Significance was set at p=0.025. 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.


Of 154 randomized, 149 completed the trial (82% female, 94% white, mean age 59.3 ± SD 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 for exercise (n=47), and 40 episodes and 453 days for control (n=51). Mean global severity was 144 for meditation, 248 for exercise, and 358 for control. Compared to control, global severity was significantly lower for meditation (p=0.0042). Both global severity and total days of illness (duration) trended towards being lower for exercise (p=0.16 and p=0.032, respectively), as did duration for the meditation group (p=0.034). Adjusting for covariates using zero-inflated multivariate regression models gave similar results. There were 67 ARI-related days-of-missed-work in the control group, 32 in the exercise group (p=0.041), and 16 for meditation (p<0.001). Healthcare visits did not differ significantly. Viruses were identified in 54% of samples from meditation, 42% from exercise, and 54% from control. Neutrophil count and interleukin-8 levels were similar among intervention groups.


Training in meditation or exercise may be effective in reducing ARI illness burden.