Exercising after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine may boost antibody response, study finds

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There are significant benefits associated with being more physically active

A new study conducted by researchers from Iowa State University explored how staying active can benefit consumers after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. According to their findings, consumers who exercised within the first hour of receiving a vaccine are more likely to get a boost of antibodies that wasn’t seen in more sedentary vaccine recipients. 

“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,” said researcher Marian Kohut. 

Benefits of staying active

For the study, the researchers conducted two trials – one on humans and one on mice. In the human-based study, a group of participants walked or cycled on a stationary bike for 90 minutes after receiving one of three vaccines: the COVID-19 vaccine, the seasonal flu shot, and the H1N1 flu shot. The team then tracked the participants' antibody response for the first four weeks after receiving their shot and compared the outcomes with those who had received the vaccines but hadn’t exercised. 

Ultimately, exercise proved to be beneficial for the participants. The researchers found that those who exercised after getting their shot had higher levels of antibodies through the four weeks. 

The team modeled a similar study on mice in which subjects ran on a treadmill after receiving a vaccine. The results held up in the mice trial, indicating that exercise had a positive effect on the antibody response.

However, this correlation between exercise and antibodies wasn’t consistent when the participants’ workouts were shorter. Compared to the 90-minute exercise, working out for even half as long wasn’t effective at producing the same boost in antibody levels. 

The researchers want to better understand why exercise has such a powerful effect on antibody response after a vaccine. They hypothesize that physical activity helps improve blood flow, which allows immune cells to circulate better throughout the body. However, they explained that many factors can come into play.

“...A lot more research is needed to answer the why and how,” Kohut said. “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.”

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