Study Links Exercise to Boosted Immune Response

In August, an article in the New York Times covered two studies of exercise and vaccinations with particularly timely findings. If you’re active, you may enjoy greater immunity from a flu shot than those aren’t as active. As vaccines for Covid-19 become available here in northern Nevada, it’s worth learning a little more about the studies and their takeaways.

The Studies

The participants of both studies were the same – a group of what the article described as 45 “elite runners, swimmers, wrestlers, cyclists, and other athletes.” Researchers already knew that exercise helps build and maintain a strong immune system, and that people who consistently work out tend to catch fewer colds and viruses than their more sedentary counterparts. But these studies were intended to determine whether an exercise habit directly assisted an immune response.

Scientists from Saarland University in Germany and a few other institutes gathered the athletes and convinced them to get flu shots (something surveyed elite athletes apparently tend to avoid, as they worry about potential side effects to their training). To round out the findings, scientists added a control group – an additional 25 young people who were healthy but not considered athletes. Researchers took blood samples from the study participants, and then they all got flu shots. Both groups returned for a second blood draw one week, two weeks, and six months later. Researchers studied the samples for anti-influenza immune cells and antibodies, and found “significantly more of these cells in the athletes’ blood, especially in the week after the shot, when everyone’s cellular reactions peaked.” Study co-author and immunologist Martina Sester said that “the athletes showed a ‘more pronounced immune response’ with presumably better protection against flu infection than other young people.’ ”

The researchers’ theory is that the daily rigors of the athletes’ demanding training programs had strengthened their immune systems, making it possible for them to respond so effectively. A second study looked at the difference between the effects of exercise in general and a single, intense workout in regard to a vaccine response. Researchers looked at the same data to determine that immune response was the same whether or not the athletes had their flu shot immediately after a hard workout or the following day.

The Big Takeaway

Taken together, the studies affirm what we already know about the benefits of exercise on our immune system – it helps. Committing to consistent exercise is not only a ticket to the many benefits inherent to fitness, but probably a good way to increase the protection we get from a vaccination. And while the study focused on elite athletes, Dr. Sester thinks its findings extend to recreational athletes. She and her colleagues also think other vaccinations – including those for Covid-19 – are likewise boosted by consistent exercise, because “the basic principles of vaccine response are probably the same…”

Whether you’re planning to receive the Covid-19 vaccination or not, the evidence supporting the benefits of exercise is a mile long. If you aren’t already exercising consistently and effectively, it’s time to start. Give yourself the gift of health and wellness in 2021 – contact the team at Framework Personal Training in Reno today.

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