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Does regular exercise boost the effectiveness of vaccination?

Regular exercise gives better immunity. But does it also help make vaccines more effective? Lounge finds out

Researchers have been trying to find out if exercising regularly helps the effectiveness of vaccinations.
Researchers have been trying to find out if exercising regularly helps the effectiveness of vaccinations. (Istockphoto)

Public health authorities around the world regularly remind and encourage people to exercise and adapt an active lifestyle. This is as good a time as any to pay heed to that advice. The reason? Vaccination. It’s the biggest buzz-word of the year so far, with countries focusing on large-scale vaccinations as the best way of getting the covid-19 pandemic under control.

So what does exercising have to do with getting vaccinations? Well, over the past decade, numerous research studies have shown that the immune system’s capacity for creating antibodies after getting vaccinated is better in those who exercise or are physically active. If you haven’t been exercising already, now is a good time to add it to your health checklist, alongside wearing a face mask, hand hygiene and physical distancing. All this helps the vaccine do its job more effectively.

Regular exercise or high levels of physical activity have been shown to be related to improved vaccination responses in older adults. Researchers Kate Edwards and Robert Booy in their 2013 paper Effects Of Exercise On Vaccine-induced Immune Responses in the Human Vaccines And Immunotherapeutics journal, stated that exercising improved the immune function, which, in turn, conferred significant public health benefits.

In another paper, Edwards and her t studied data from 20 trials involving a wide variety of people who had any kind of exercise prior to vaccination.They found that exposure to either ‘acute’ or ‘chronic’ exercise significantly helped the subjects’ immune response to vaccination.

Another study titled Eccentric Exercise As An Adjuvant To Influenza Vaccination In Humans, published in 2007, had identified exercise as a behavioural factor that could enhance immune responses after vaccination. The researchers had a group of young adult participants perform some upper body exercises including bicep curls and lateral raises for 25 minutes, about six hours prior to receiving an influenza vaccine. They showed better immune response to the vaccine compared to another group that hadn’t exercised before vaccination.

Good lifestyle choices such as exercise, good diet and healthy habits make the immune system stronger, says Dr. Manoj Sharma, senior consultant for internal medicine at Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi. “People who lead sedentary lives, are not active and eat poorly are more likely to have weaker immune systems. So, the more robust immune systems of those who exercise may result in a better response to the vaccine making it more effective,” says Dr. Sharma.

A separate study in 2018 also found that people who exercise before or after taking a vaccine shot also complain of fewer adverse side effects such as tenderness, swelling, fever, headaches or feeling ill. The team observed 116 adolescents who received the HPV vaccine.

Little soreness, body ache and fever for a day or two are common side effects of any kind of vaccination and simple medicine such as paracetamol could fix it, says Dr. Sharma, adding that the robust immune system of people who exercise are likely to lead to fewer side effects of a vaccine.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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