It’s that time of year—the entire office is coughing, sneezing, and looking like one big commercial for the common cold. Even those who take their vitamin C shots and wash their hands regularly are susceptible to germs in colder temperatures. There are countless treatments, home remedies, and ancient practices that people rely on to battle a cold, but if you want to avoid the dreaded sniffles altogether when they strike every year, consider starting a meditation practice.
Research suggests meditating regularly may be an effective strategy for protecting the body from colds and illness. In one recent studypublished in the journal PLOS One, researchers gave 390 adults flu shots. Some of the participants additionally took an eight-week meditation course, some took an eight-week exercise class in addition to the shot, and the rest just took the shot by itself. The findings revealed a clear protective benefit to meditating: After the eight weeks passed, those who meditated wound up getting the least number of respiratory illnesses and missed the fewest amount of workdays. Overall, the meditation group fared about 17 percent better than the others.
Meditation is so effective in preventing colds and illness because of its ability to lower stress. That’s not woo-woo science: Stress can lower the body’s lymphocytes—the white blood cells that help ward off infection. When a person is extremely stressed and their lymphocyte levels are very low, they’re much more susceptible to viruses like the common cold, compared to someone who can healthily manage stress.
Moreover, when stressed, our bodies are working overtime to keep up with the demands we’re placing on it, whether mentally or physically. But when relaxed and calm, our bodies can work like the well-oiled machines they are. “Eliminating or modifying these [stress-inducing] factors in one’s life is vital to protect and augment the immune response,” clinical immunologist Leonard Calabrese, D.O., tells the Cleveland Clinic.
In addition to keeping the immune system healthy, meditation has also been found to reduce symptoms of various harmful conditions and illnesses, including high blood pressure, IBS symptoms, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
This isn’t to say that meditation should be relied on wholly to beat a nasty cold. The practice should be used in conjunction with the right medication per a doctor’s orders, while consistently looking to meditation as a form of stress relief throughout the year. The goal, ultimately, is to make meditation an essential part of your schedule so that you can avoid getting sick as frequently. Your immune system will thank you—and so will your calmer, stress-free mind.