Exercise boosts immunity and makes vaccines more effective – new study

You want the COVID jab to really work? Better get moving, moving, moving.

Key Points

  • Physical inactivity is responsible for more than five million premature deaths every year
  • Activity strengthens the immune system.
  • An active person is 50% more likely to have a higher antibody count after the vaccine

Experts agree that COVID-19 is here to stay, just like other infectious diseases, such as the flu. We will need to continuously manage and protect ourselves against it. Vaccination is an obvious step to take.

And in the long term, exercising the body is one of the best ways to boost your immunity.

A study from 2008 found that physical inactivity is responsible for more than five million premature deaths every year.

Now, a new systematic review of evidence shows that regular physical activity strengthens the human immune system, reduces the risk of falling ill and dying from infectious disease by more than a third and significantly increases the effectiveness of vaccination campaigns.

The review found consistent and compelling evidence across six studies involving more than a half million participants that meeting the recommended guidelines for physical activity – 30 minutes of activity, five days a week – reduces the risk of falling ill and dying of infectious diseases by 37%.

This adds to the results of another new study conducted in the United States specifically on COVID-19. The effect is at least as strong if not more so than the effect reported for other risk factors of COVID-19 such as age or having a pre-existing condition such as diabetes.

Regular physical activity resulted in elevated levels of the antibody immunoglobulin IgA. This antibody coats the mucosal membrane of our lungs and other parts of our body where viruses and bacteria can enter.

Regular physical activity also increases the number of CD4+ T cells, which are responsible for alerting the immune system of an attack and regulate its response.

Also, vaccines appear more effective if they are administered after a programme of physical activity. A person who is active is 50% more likely to have a higher antibody count after the vaccine than somebody who is not active.

How physical activity wards off disease

  1. It protects against risk factors of severe and fatal infection. Physically active people are less likely to develop obesity, diabetes, respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. Epidemiological studies have shown that COVID-19 and other respiratory infectious diseases are more severe for people who have these conditions.
  2. Physical activity also reduces stress and chronic inflammation, in turn reducing the likelihood of adverse and fatal infections. Most COVID-19 and pneumonia fatalities have been as a result of uncontrolled inflammatory response.
  3. Our immune system is stronger if we are physically active.

We need to get moving

Physical activity helps make populations less vulnerable to infectious diseases and future epidemics and pandemics.

Review author, quoted in The Conversation, Professor Sebastien Chastin of Glasgow Caledonian University says exercise should be used more urgently and effectively in fighting the current COVID-19 outbreak, and as a long term investment to prevent the devastating social and economic impacts this pandemic has had on society.

“Governments encouraged people to stay active early in the pandemic to cope with lockdown measures. There was a surge of interest in exercise immediately following lockdown in most communities. Unfortunately, this has not translated into positive change in activity levels,” he said.

This is a dangerous trend that could make the population more vulnerable to infectious and chronic diseases in the short term. Left unchecked, it will also leave a damaging long-term legacy and increase the burden of disease and its associated social and economic cost.

Underestimating the impact of physical inactivity could also exacerbate the unsustainable and unacceptable health inequalities highlighted by the pandemic. Generally, physical activity levels are lower in societies with greater economic inequalities and this affects women most.

Sebastien Chastin is Professor Health Behaviour Dynamics, Glasgow Caledonian University This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.