Here’s what doctors are saying about the results of a new vaccine-related study.
Exercise has a wide variety of health benefits beyond staying fit, and one of the main ones is boosting immunity. And it turns out, according to a new study, exercising regularly could boost the benefits of your COVID-19 vaccine.
Researchers looked at 200,000 men and women in South Africa, collecting data regarding vaccinations, COVID outcomes and exercise routines. They found that the COVID vaccination was effective in protecting them from severe infection. However, it was more effective in those who exercised regularly.
How Exercise Can Help COVID Vaccine Efficacy
As the study shows, those who received the Johnson & Johnson COVID (Ad26.COV2.S) vaccine and exercised at a high level were almost 3 times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID than those people who were vaccinated but had only low levels of exercise, Dr. William Liinternationally renowned doctor, researcher, president/founder of the Angiogenesis Foundation and author of Eating to overcome disease, Explain. This study was unique because it examined a difficult endpoint of hospitalization and also documented exercise through wearable devices.
Researchers have known for some time that exercise boosts 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 destroy viruses, and it also improves the layer of immune defenses lining the nasal passages where respiratory viruses enter the body, says Dr. Li.
Regular exercise also promotes better sleep at night, and sleep quality is also important for immune response.
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An additional point: those who take the time to exercise, especially those who exercise at high intensity, are more likely to take better care of their health, including diet and lifestyle choices. healthier. Dietary choices, especially eating whole plant-based foods such as omega-3-rich blueberries, walnuts and seafood, have been shown to boost immunity, adds Dr. Li.
“We have limited data on the effect of exercise on COVID vaccine efficacy,” says Dr. F. Perry Wilson, MD, of Yale Medicine. “But we do know that exercise alone seems to be quite protective against poor COVID outcomes. People who exercise frequently are significantly less likely to be hospitalized due to COVID or to die due to complications from COVID.
The BMJ study gives us the best data yet to suggest that exercise has a direct effect on the immune response to vaccination, showing that vaccine efficacy is higher in those who exercise more.
This is a really subtle but important point. It wouldn’t be surprising if sedentary people had worse COVID outcomes, which has been shown in several previous studies. But the vaccine should still work in this group, adds Dr. Wilson. And it is indeed the case, reducing the hospitalization rate by about 60%. But what is striking is that it works better in the most active group — a group that overall is less likely to be hospitalized.
Exercise is a complex physiological state – it raises your heart rate, dilates some blood vessels (and constricts others), and raises levels of some hormones (and lowers others), so the pathways by which exercise can influence the immune system are many, says 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 also very good for your immune system.
“There are probably many reasons why exercise can make COVID vaccinations more effective,” says Justen Elpay, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at NYU Langone Huntington Medical Group. “According to the study, physical activity has been shown to have effects at many levels, including at the organelle level, allowing individuals to have a ‘combination of enhanced antibody levels, improved monitoring of T cell immunity and psychosocial factors. This suggests that exercise encourages your body to mount a more robust immune response, thereby making vaccinations more effective,”
The dangers of a sedentary lifestyle
The study also showed that the vaccinated group who exercised at least 1 hour per week were 1.4 times less likely to be hospitalized than the sedentary, vaccinated participants. This indicates that the vaccines were about 12% more effective in those who exercised than in those who did not.
“Sedentary lifestyles are associated with overall weaker health defenses, including immunity. This is one explanation for the lesser effectiveness of vaccination in avoiding hospitalization,” says Dr. People who lead sedentary lives also often make poor food choices, which can influence the gut microbiome and therefore increase inflammation and reduce immune responses. Even getting a little exercise can counteract these effects.
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Even brief bouts of exercise can alter the chemicals in your blood — hormones, cytokines, and chemokines — and alter your sugar metabolism among multiple other effects, Dr. Wilson says. How these episodes interact with the immune system is still unclear, but it seems like something happens to stimulate the production of immune molecules like antibodies when you exercise.
“One of the most important effects of exercise is improving the way our body heals and copes with injury and disease,” says Dr. Elbayer. “The reason vaccines may be more effective in those who exercise is likely multifactorial. A more robust immune response to vaccines plays a huge role.”
The amount of exercise you need per week to reap the benefits
The BMJ study showed there was a dose-response to the effectiveness of the COVID vaccine in preventing hospitalization. People who benefited the most exercised for at least 150 minutes a week at a level that raised their heart rate to between 70 and 80 percent of maximum, Dr. Li says.
But even moderate exercise, defined as 60 minutes to 149 minutes per week, was beneficial in reducing the risk of hospitalization.
The bottom line: When it comes to benefiting 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. This shows there are steps people can take to improve the effectiveness of other vaccines as well, Dr Li adds.
“The BMJ study suggests that there is a dose-response relationship here. This means that even minimal exercise can lead to some benefit, and more exercise leads to more benefit, Dr. Wilson says. “My advice in reading this study is what I tell my patients all the time: exercise as much as you can, and when you can do it comfortably, try to do a little more.”
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