Wondering if your should exercise on the day of your vaccination or not? What about the day after? How are you likely to feel? Elite athletes ponder these questions on a regular basis, whether it’s for the seasonal flu or travel vaccinations. And some athletes are vaccine hesitant due to concerns of having to miss a workout. But as it turns out, this is a misconception. In fact, exercise may even help your vaccine’s effectiveness.
Exercise, Vaccinations and Immune Response
While it’s still early days to know how exercise fits into your COVID vaccination, a number of studies have looked at vaccines for other infections. These have reported a greater immune response in athletes in the weeks following vaccination for the seasonal flu. And people exercising three times per week had a better antibody response to vaccination compared to non-exercisers. This benefit was even present in people over 65 years. Continued exercise after vaccination can also prolong the benefits for months later.
There is also evidence moderate exercise immediately before vaccination can enhance the immune response. And the effect of exercise appears to be greater in vaccines that result in a modest immune response. Vaccines which elicit a strong immune response may not be impacted by acute exercise. This is consistent with a study in teens who exercised immediately before having the HPV vaccination. With the HPV vaccine providing such a strong immune response, there was no additional benefit from exercise compared to the non-exercise group.
The higher immune response following vaccination is likely due to the beneficial effects of exercise on the immune system. We know people who exercise regularly are less likely to get sick. This is because exercise reduces inflammation and increases disease-fighting white blood cells. Even walking for 30 minutes can have an effect.
Exercise and COVID-19
While it’s unclear if regular exercise can reduce chances of COVID-19 infection, it does appear to reduce the severity of the illness. People who were inactive before having COVID-19 were 2.5 times more likely to die from it compared to people meeting the activity guidelines (150 min/week). In this study, physical inactivity was associated with a greater chance of COVID-related death than having obesity, diabetes or heart disease. And exercise has also been shown to help people recover from ongoing COVID-19 symptoms of fatigue and reduced function.
Despite the benefits of being active, opportunities for exercise and sporting events have been reduced due to pandemic restrictions. This has mainly affected indoor and group activities. The risk, however, varies based on the type of activity, with indoor fitness programs such as spin classes having some of the greatest risk. This is likely the result of people being together breathing heavily, in an enclosed room with limited ventilation. In this environment virus droplets travel further distances and hang in the air for a longer time.
In contrast, outdoor activities carry much lower risk. Even outdoor team sports such as rugby and soccer, pose minimal risk. However, these studies were in professional leagues in which testing regularly occurred and strict protocols were followed.
The concern regarding COVID transmission isn’t so much to do with the activity itself, but rather what happens before and after the activity. Time spent together in a locker room, social activities afterwards and even commuting together, provide greater opportunities for transmission than most physical activities.
Planning for your Vaccination
When it comes time for you, whether it’s your first or second shot, there’s nothing to suggest you need to stop exercising before your vaccination. After your vaccination, you should listen to your body. While many people won’t experience side effects, some will. The most common tend to be fatigue, chills, fever and pain at the injection site. However, exercise immediately before vaccination can reduce the occurrence of side effects. In particular, exercises in the arm getting the shot can reduce muscle soreness and pain at the injection site.
That being said, it’s probably a good idea to put off any races or expectations of a personal best in the days after your vaccination. However, this doesn’t mean sitting around doing nothing. It’s still fine to continue light and moderate activity (symptoms allowing). And the CDC even recommends movement and exercise for your arm to reduce lingering side effects.
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