By: Dr. Magdy Badran
It was found that 90 minutes of mild- to moderate-intensity exercise directly after a flu or COVID-19 vaccine may provide an extra immune boost. Participants who cycled on a stationary bike or took a brisk walk for an hour-and-a-half after getting a jab produced more antibodies in the following four weeks compared to participants who sat or continued with their daily routine post-immunization.
Vaccines help the immune system learn how to identify something foreign and respond by bolstering the body’s defenses, including an increase in antibodies. Antibodies are protective proteins produced by your immune system. Antibodies are essentially the body’s “search and destroy” line of defense against viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites.
Exercise Boosts Immunity
Regular exercise can enhance vaccination response and boost the immune system. Just like eating a healthy diet, regular physical activity contributes to overall good health and, therefore, a healthy immune system. Exercise promotes efficient blood circulation, which keeps the cells of the immune system moving so that they can effectively do their job.
Physical exercise can mobilize billions of cells responsible for the organism’s immune surveillance and “wake up” the immune system. These cells patrol the sites used as gateways by pathogens and, when they detect a threat, recruit other defense cells to attack the invader.
Regular exercise also lowers levels of systemic inflammation and cortisol (the stress hormone), contributing to an adequate immune response. The stress hormones can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system. Exercise may limit the effect of stress. Lower stress hormones may protect against illness. Stress is linked to headaches, infectious illness, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma and gastric ulcers. When we’re stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced. Those who report high levels of stress are more likely to become infected. Stress can also have an indirect effect on the immune system as a person may use unhealthy behavioral coping strategies to reduce their stress.
Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep and reduces stress and anxiety. Getting enough sleep can protect the brain from damage. Poor quality sleep has been linked to a wide array of health problems, including immune depression.
Physically Active People Respond Better to COVID-19 Vaccine
Previous studies showed that an active lifestyle protects people against severe COVID-19 and tends to reduce hospitalization. Adopting a physically active lifestyle can be a strategy for boosting the immune response induced by COVID-19 vaccines. Physical activity boosts the immune response to the vaccine regardless of age, sex and use of immunosuppressants. Getting a minimum of physical exercise produces a positive response, but the more movement the better.
There are studies that associate exercise with an enhanced response to vaccines against influenza (H1N1, H3N2 and type B), against varicella-zoster virus, and against pneumococcal disease.
Exercise Boosts Flu Shots
Exercising at the time of having a flu shot may increase the success of vaccination. While having a flu vaccine is considered a great way to lessen your odds of catching the disease, they don’t work for everyone. Exercise is a key to successful vaccination. Physically activity has been found to improve immunity in general, but specifically doing some exercise immediately before or after a vaccination can boost vaccine response in particular.
Exercise can bring about profound changes in the immune system, such as increasing circulating cell numbers, with specific increases in certain subsets, and the release of immune messenger proteins by working muscle cells themselves. Exercise can help vaccine response by activating the immune system.
With vaccine success rates sitting around 50 to 70 percent, a large number of those vaccinated are receiving minimal benefit, which is often mentioned as a reason not to get the jab. People also avoid flu shots because of side effects like headaches and soreness. But physical activity after a shot might not only make the vaccine work better, it might protect them from some side effects as well.
Exercise After the COVID Vaccine
No research has shown that it’s harmful to exercise after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The only safety considerations depend on your body’s reaction to the vaccine.
The list of the common vaccine side effects include pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea. Side effects may be more intense after the second shot than the first.
Approximately 50% of people who receive the vaccine experience side effects, usually after the second dose. Fatigue is the most common. Exercise may make these side effects worse. However, there are no real risks of exercising after the COVID-19 vaccine.
When to Avoid Exercise After the Vaccine
You may want to avoid moderate to vigorous exercise immediately after receiving the vaccine if you have an allergic reaction to the vaccine itself.
Common symptoms of an allergic reaction to the vaccine include hives, swelling, and wheezing (a sign of respiratory distress). These symptoms usually occur within 4 hours of receiving the vaccine
If you have a history of asthma or any respiratory issues, you may want to avoid vigorous aerobic exercise until you know how your body will react to the vaccine. In addition, you may want to have any management medications on hand when you return to exercise.
Exercises to Do After the Vaccine
There is no specific type of exercise recommended after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. However, exercise in general has been shown to be an effective immunity booster and may even increase the effectiveness of the vaccine. Exercise has been shown to increase the potency of the vaccine by increasing antibody concentration. These results were not specific to COVID-19, but this is another benefit of habitual exercise.
We recommend that everyone, in particular adolescents and younger men, aged younger than 30, avoid strenuous physical activity, such as intense exercise, for one week after the first and second doses
Increasing fluid intake and using anti-inflammatory medications after vaccination may help you manage side effects such as fever and allow you to get back to exercise more quickly.
Exercises For Injection Site Pain
Injection site pain is a subjective side effect that is commonly reported with the administration of vaccines, yet it may only be a concern to some. Despite lasting for only a day or two, it can still be unpleasant. Inflammation involves redness, soreness and swelling. This occurs at the site of the injection of the COVID-19 vaccine which is done into the middle deltoid muscle of your arm.
We advise people keep their arms active to help deal with site pain. A cool, wet washcloth and over-the-counter painkiller may help too. One way to reduce this reaction is to move your arm around to keep the vaccine and its reaction from being concentrated in one location.
Exercise is a potent positive mental health coping mechanism. Continuing to keep moving before and after the vaccine is important both for physical and mental health benefits. The potential benefit of gentle exercises may be due to their blood flow boost-up and anti-inflammatory effects.