Exercise has a variety of health benefits other than keeping you fit, and one of the most important is boosting immunity. And as it turns out, according to a new file studyRegular exercise can enhance the benefits of your COVID-19 vaccine.
Researchers examined 200,000 men and women in South Africa, collecting data on vaccinations, COVID outcomes and exercise routines. They found that the COVID vaccine was effective in protecting them from serious infections. However, it was more effective in those who exercised frequently.
How exercise can help the effectiveness of the COVID vaccine
As shown in the study, those who received the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine (Ad26.COV2.S) and exercised at a high level were nearly three times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID compared to people who were vaccinated but had only low levels of exercise. Dr.. William Leeinternationally renowned physician, researcher, president of the Vascular Formation Foundation / founder and author Eat to beat disease, explains. This study was unique in that it looked at a challenging end point of hospitalization and also documented exercise for wearable devices.
Researchers have known for some time that exercise stimulates the immune system and can increase the immune response to a vaccine by creating more protective antibodies in the blood. Exercise also activates immune T cells that eliminate viruses, and it improves the layer of immune defenses that line the nasal passages where respiratory viruses enter the body.
Regular exercise also helps improve sleep at night, and sleep quality is also important for the immune response.
Bonus point: Those who take the time to exercise, especially those who do high-intensity exercise, are more likely to take care of their overall health, including choosing a healthier diet and lifestyle. Dr. Lee adds that dietary choices, especially eating more whole plant foods like blueberries, tree nuts and omega-3-rich seafood, have been shown to boost immunity.
“We have limited data on the effect of exercise on the effectiveness of the COVID vaccine,” he says. Dr. F. Perry Wilson, MDfrom Yale University of Medicine. But we know that exercise alone appears to completely protect against the poor outcomes of COVID. People who exercise frequently are significantly less likely to be hospitalized with COVID or die from complications from COVID.”
The BMJ study gives us the best data to date indicating that exercise has a direct effect on the immune response to vaccination, showing that the efficacy of the vaccine is higher among those who exercise more.
This is a subtle but really important point. It wouldn’t be surprising that sedentary individuals had worse outcomes from COVID – something that has been shown in several previous studies. Dr. Wilson adds that the vaccine should still be effective in that group. Indeed, it reduces the hospitalization rate by about 60%. But the amazing thing is that it works better In the more active group – a group generally less likely to be hospitalized.
Exercise is a complex physiological condition—it raises the heart rate, widens some blood vessels (and narrows others), increases levels of certain hormones (and decreases others), so the pathways by which exercise can affect the immune system are numerous, explains Dr. Wilson. But it’s no surprise that the overall effect is good: Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body, and it’s probably good for your immune system, too.
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“There are many potential reasons why exercise might make COVID vaccines more effective,” he says. Justen Elbayar, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in the Division of Orthopedics at NYU Langone Huntington Medical Group. “According to the study, physical activity has been shown to have effects on many levels, including the organelle level, allowing individuals to have ‘a combination of enhanced antibody levels, improved T-cell immune control and psychosocial factors. This suggests that exercise encourages your body to prepare a more robust immune response, which makes vaccines more effective.”
The dangers of a sedentary lifestyle
The study also showed that the vaccinated group who exercised for at least one hour each week were 1.4 times less likely to be admitted to hospital compared to the sedentary and vaccinated participants. This indicates that the vaccines were 12 percent more effective in those who exercised than in those who did not.
Sedentary lifestyles are associated with poor overall health defences, including immunity. This is one explanation for the low effectiveness of vaccination in preventing hospitalization,” says Dr. Lee. People who lead a sedentary lifestyle also often make poor dietary choices, which can affect the gut microbiome and thus increase inflammation and reduce immune responses. Exercising a little More exercise can counteract these effects.”
Even short bouts of exercise can alter chemicals in the blood — hormones, cytokines and chemokines — and alter sugar metabolism among multiple other effects, says Dr. Wilson. How these seizures interact with the immune system is still unclear, but something appears to be happening to boost the production of immune molecules such as antibodies when you exercise.
“One of the most important effects of exercise is to improve how our bodies heal and adapt to injury and disease,” says Dr. Albayer. “Why vaccines may be most effective in those who exercise is likely multifactorial. A more robust immune response to vaccines plays a large role.”
How much exercise do you need per week to reap the benefits
The BMJ study showed that there is a dose response to the effectiveness of the COVID vaccine in preventing hospitalization. Dr. Lee explains that the people who got the most benefit exercised at least 150 minutes a week with the level raising their heart rates to between 70-80% of their maximum.
But even moderate exercise, defined as 60 minutes to 149 minutes per week, was beneficial for reducing the risk of hospitalization.
Bottom line: When it came to benefit from the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccines in this study, some exercise was better than none, and the more people exercised, the more protection they received. Dr. Lee adds that this shows that there are steps people can take to enhance the effectiveness of other vaccines as well.
The BMJ study suggests that there is a dose-response relationship here. This means that even minimal exercise may lead to some benefits, with more exercise leading to more benefits, says Dr. Wilson. “My advice when reading this study is what I tell my patients all the time – do whatever exercise you can and when you can do it comfortably, try to do more.”