Exercising right after getting a COVID or flu vaccine leads to more antibodies

AMES, Iowa — You may want to hit the gym or head out for a jog after getting your COVID-19 shot. Preliminary research from Iowa State University finds that exercising for 90 minutes just after having a coronavirus or flu vaccine may cause the production of more antibodies and stronger overall immunity.

In comparison to others who took it easy after getting their jab, study subjects who either cycled on a stationary bike or went for a brisk walk for a full 90 minutes after getting vaccinated showed signs of more antibodies for at least four weeks post-vaccination. Similar results were also seen in mice.

Antibodies are, of course, our body’s first line of defense against pathogens and viruses like COVID-19. Vaccines, meanwhile, serve to aid the immune system by providing a blueprint of what to expect from the pathogen, better preparing bodily defense mechanisms to react quickly and decisively in the form of more relevant antibodies.

“Our preliminary results are the first to demonstrate a specific amount of time can enhance the body’s antibody response to the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine and two vaccines for influenza,” says lead study author and Kinesiology Professor Marian Kohut, in a statement..

Importantly, the research team adds that these findings can benefit anyone of any fitness level. You don’t have to be an athlete. Close to half of the participants were either overweight or obese. Generally, each participant focused on maintaining a heart rate of around 120 to 140 beats per minute while working out.

Why does exercise increase antibodies after getting a COVID or flu vaccine?

Researchers also looked to see if just 45 minutes of exercise post-vaccination would result in similar immunity boosts, ultimately noting that it did not. Moving forward, they’re interested in seeing what a full hour of exercise post-vaccination can do.

As far as an explanation for these findings, the authors believe there are a number of possible factors at play. To start, when we exercise, blood and lymph flow increases, which means greater immune cell circulation. As those immune cells make their way around the body, they’re that much more likely to detect a threat.

Data collected during rodent trials also suggest a specific protein produced in response to exercise (interferon alpha) may aid in the creation of virus-specific antibodies and T- cells.

“But a lot more research is needed to answer the why and how. There are so many changes that take place when we exercise – metabolic, biochemical, neuroendocrine, circulatory. So, there’s probably a combination of factors that contribute to the antibody response we found in our study,” Prof. Kohut concludes.

Individuals assessed for this study are still being tracked up to six months post-vaccination. Researchers are anxious to determine where antibody levels will be at by that point. Moreover, another study focusing on the effect of exercise on booster shots is already underway.

The study is published in Brain Behavior and Immunity.

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