The Surprising Trick to Never Getting Sick

Popping vitamin C by the handful in hopes of staving off the flu? New research shows the trick to staying well may be much simpler: daily meditation.

In a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin, researchers split up subjects into three groups: a control group, a group that exercised daily and a group that meditated daily. At the end of the trial, those people who meditated were sick much less and had missed fewer workdays than the exercisers (who also saw benefits) and the control group. The meditating group also experienced less severity of illness when they were sick in comparison to the control group.

Researchers are currently repeating the experiment to confirm that the findings were valid, but study author Dr. Bruce Barrett, an associate professor in the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Family Medicine, says these preliminary findings are promising.

“If the results turn out to be true, that means meditation gives a similar reduction rate to getting flu shots, which work for influenza-type illness -- only one of the hundreds of types of viruses that go through the community each year,” Barrett says. “If we reduced all the types of infectious disease at a similar rate, that would be huge.”

While researchers aren’t sure why exactly meditation and illness reduction were linked in the study, Barrett says that research shows people who are chronically stressed or otherwise psychologically unhealthy are much more likely to get sick -- so meditating may help for that reason.

If you’re looking to reap the benefits of meditation, Michael DeFrancisco, founder of Blessing Meditation, located in La Jolla, Calif., recommends signing up for a program that teaches effortless mindfulness techniques. “Most people who try to meditate on their own will quit after one session,” he says. That said, if you want to get a jump-start on your own, DeFrancisco suggests trying 10- to 15-minute meditation sessions, twice a day if possible. Here are some of his best meditation tips to get you going:

1. Eliminate outside distractions.
If you’re in a setting where you can feel your phone buzzing and see your dog trying to get your attention, you won’t be able to enter a state of relaxation. Find a comfortable place to sit (not lie down) away from technology, phones, pets, children and any other potential distractions you can control. “It doesn’t mean no noise, but the idea is to create an environment in which you won’t feel like you need to react to anything,” DeFrancisco says. “It will be a kind of sanctuary in your home.”

2. Ease into it.
Try to do everything gently when you take a break to meditate: Sit down gently, close your eyes gently, think gentle thoughts. “You don’t want to throw yourself into it, slam your eyes shut, and think, ‘Oh, I’m so irritated with my day,’” DeFrancisco says. “Your experience should be charming and graceful.” Entering a tranquil state will be that much more difficult if you start off on a tense note, so approach your meditation as you would stepping into a bubble bath -- not rushing out the door.

3. Don’t worry about turning off your thoughts.
The goal is to practice existing without expectations or anticipations (since they can turn into stressors) -- not to learn how to do absolutely nothing, DeFrancisco says. “The purpose is not to control, direct, manage or guide -- it’s just to be,” he says. “If you stay on a thought for a while, it’s fine. If it’s a fantasy, that’s fine. If it’s a practical to-do list, that’s fine. Just take it as it comes.” The key is to acknowledge thoughts rather than trying to control, judge, condemn or reject them.

4. Give yourself a cooling-off period.
After your 10- to 15-minute meditation is complete, don’t jump right back into your daily routine. Instead, lie on the floor for three minutes. “It will allow some residual stress to be eliminated,” DeFrancisco says, “so you don’t carry it with you afterward.”

Do you meditate? Share your experiences below or @Completely_You