Regular exercise may improve the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines

Regular exercise may improve the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines


According to a new study on the effects of regular physical activity and vaccines, regular exercise could magnify the benefits of your next coronavirus vaccination or booster, even if you schedule your injection weeks or months from now.

The study, which involved nearly 200,000 men and women in South Africa, found that vaccination against the coronavirus effectively prevented serious illnesses in most of them. But it worked best in people who exercised regularly. They ended up about 25% less likely to be hospitalized with covid than sedentary people, despite everyone getting the same vaccine.

“I think this study adds to the growing evidence that, along with vaccination, daily physical activity is the most important thing you can do to prevent the serious consequences of COVID-19,” said family physician Robert Sallis. and sports medicine at the Kaiser. Permanent Fontana Medical Center in California and past president of the American College of Sports Medicine. He researched covid and exercise, but was not involved in the new study.

The study results, however, raise questions about how much – or little – exercise might best amplify the benefits of the vaccine and whether it’s too late to benefit if you’ve already been fully vaccinated or if you are. will be soon.

A lot of research over the past year has shown that being active and fit significantly reduces your risk of becoming seriously ill if you develop covid. Sallis conducted a study, for example, of nearly 50,000 Californians who tested positive for the coronavirus before vaccines became available. Those who had walked or exercised regularly before falling ill were about half as likely to need hospitalization as sedentary people.

Similarly, an August review of 16 previous studies involving nearly 2 million people concluded that active people were significantly less likely than inactive people to be infected, hospitalized or killed by covid.

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These links between exercise and protection against covid make sense, Sallis said. We know “that immune function improves with regular physical activity,” he said, as do lung health and inflammation levels, which otherwise can contribute to the spiral of poor outcomes with covid.

But the studies had not looked at whether active people gained additional benefits from their coronavirus injections and boosters.

So for the new study, which has just been published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers in Johannesburg gathered anonymized records of nearly 200,000 men and women from the country’s largest health insurer.

The records included information about people’s vaccinations, covid results and exercise habits, gleaned from activity trackers and gym visits. Because Medicare gave people points and prizes for being active, study subjects tended to scrupulously log every workout.

The researchers first extensively compared the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. (The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was then the only option available.) As expected, the unvaccinated developed covid and fell seriously ill in far greater numbers than the vaccinated.

But even among fully vaccinated people, exercise made a significant difference in covid outcomes, said Jon Patricios, professor of clinical medicine and health sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg-Braamfontein, who has supervised the new study.

Vaccinated people who walked or exercised moderately for at least 150 minutes a week were almost three times less likely to be hospitalized if they developed covid than those who were vaccinated but sedentary.

In more concrete terms, their vaccines protected them about 25% better than the same vaccines in sedentary people.

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These people’s exercise habits met or exceeded standard exercise guidelines promoted by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Patricios said, which call for about half an hour of moderate activity. at least five times a week.

But even vaccinated people who moved less, exercising for as little as an hour a week, were 1.4 times less likely to be hospitalized than the sedentary, vaccinated group, suggesting their vaccines were about 12% more effective than those of people who did not exercise. .

“Doing something mattered, even if people didn’t follow all the guidelines,” Patricios said. “It’s an idea we call ‘small steps, strong shield’. ”

If you can’t do a 30-minute walk today, he said, a 10-minute walk is better than skipping the exercise altogether.

This study was, however, associative, meaning it shows links between activity and covid outcomes. While this doesn’t prove that being active makes vaccines more effective, the links were consistent and the effects large, Patricios said.

He also thinks the relationship would be similar for exercise and other coronavirus vaccines such as the Moderna and Pfizer versions, and in people who don’t live in Johannesburg.

How habitual activity increases vaccine response is still somewhat unclear. But Patricios suspects that the muscular immune system of athletes prompts the creation of additional battalions of anti-covid antibodies after each vaccination. Lifestyles can also affect the response, including people’s diet and income.

Perhaps most encouragingly, “I don’t think it’s ever too late” to start exercising, he said. Have you been inactive? A walk today should begin to prepare your immune system to respond more fervently to your next vaccination or covid exposure. “Plus,” he pointed out, “you don’t need a prescription, and it’s free.”

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