Regular exercise may improve the effectiveness of covid vaccines: Study
Regular exercise could amplify the benefits of your next coronavirus vaccination or booster, even if you schedule your shot weeks or months from now, according to a new study of the effects of regular physical activity and vaccines.
The study, which involved almost 200,000 men and women in South Africa, found coronavirus vaccination effectively prevented severe illness in most of them. But it worked best in people who exercised regularly.
They wound up about 25 percent less likely to be hospitalized with covid than sedentary people, although everyone received the same vaccine.
“I think this study adds to the growing evidence that, along with vaccination, daily physical activity is the single most important thing you can do to prevent severe COVID-19 outcomes,” said Robert Sallis, a family and sports medicine doctor at the Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center in California and former president of the American College of Sports Medicine. He has researched covid and exercise but was not involved with the new study.
The study’s findings raise questions, though, about how much — or little — exercise might best magnify vaccine benefits and whether it is too late to benefit if you already have been fully vaccinated or will be soon.
A wealth of research in the past year has shown that being active and fit substantially lowers your risk of becoming seriously ill if you develop covid. Sallis led a study, for instance, of almost 50,000 Californians who tested positive for the coronavirus before vaccines were available. Those who had regularly walked or otherwise worked out before falling ill were about half as likely to need hospitalization as sedentary people.
Similarly, an August review of 16 past studies involving nearly 2 million people concluded that active people were substantially less likely than the inactive to be infected, hospitalized or killed by covid.
These connections between exercise and covid protection 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 spiraling bad outcomes with covid.
For the new study, which was just published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers in Johannesburg gathered anonymized records of almost 200,000 men and women from the nation’s largest health insurer.
Vaccinated people who walked or otherwise 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.