Researchers at Iowa State University have found that 90 minutes of light-to-moderate intensity exercise directly after a flu or COVID-19 vaccine can provide additional immune support.
In the recently published study, participants who cycled on a stationary bike or took a brisk walk for an hour and a half after receiving a jab produced more antibodies over the following four weeks compared to participants who sat down or continued their daily routine. post-immunization. The researchers found similar results when they conducted an experiment with mice and treadmills.
Antibodies are essentially the body’s “seek-and-destroy” line of defense against viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Vaccines help the immune system learn to identify something foreign and respond by strengthening the body’s defenses, including increasing antibodies.
“Our preliminary results are the first to demonstrate that a specific time frame can enhance the body’s antibody response to the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine and two influenza vaccines,” said kinesiology professor Marian Kohut. , lead author of the article published in the Journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.
The researchers said the study results could directly benefit people with a range of fitness levels. Almost half of the participants in the experiment had a BMI in the overweight or obese category. During 90 minutes of exercise, they focused on maintaining a pace that kept their heart rate around 120 to 140 beats per minute rather than distance.
In the study, researchers also tested whether participants could achieve the same increase in antibodies with just 45 minutes of exercise. They found that the shorter workout did not increase participants’ antibody levels. Kohut said the research team could test whether 60 minutes is enough to generate a response in a follow-up study.
Why the boost?
As to why prolonged light-to-moderate intensity exercise might improve the body’s immune response, Kohut said there could be several reasons. Exercise increases blood and lymph flow, which helps immune cells circulate. As these cells move through the body, they are more likely to detect something foreign.
Data from the mouse experiment also suggested that a type of protein (i.e. interferon alpha) produced during exercise helps generate virus-specific antibodies and T cells.
But much more research is needed to answer the whys and hows. There are so many changes that occur when we exercise – metabolic, biochemical, neuroendocrine, circulatory. So there is likely a combination of factors contributing to the antibody response that we found in our study.”
Professor Marian Kohut, lead author of the article
Researchers continue to follow the antibody response in participants six months after vaccination and have launched another study that focuses on the effects of exercise on people who receive booster shots.
Postdoctoral researcher Tyanez Jones, graduate assistant Jessica Alley, and Justus Hallam, a graduate student at the time of the study, co-authored the recently published paper with Marian Kohut. Kohut said the research team also received a lot of help from undergraduate students, including students from the ISU Science Bound Scholars program.
Hallam, J. et al. (2022) Exercise after influenza or COVID-19 vaccination increases serum antibodies without increased side effects. Brain, behavior and immunity. doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2022.02.005.