Should I Exercise Before Getting the Vaccine? How About After?
Before heading out for my first of two Covid-19 vaccine shots, I worried I might not feel like exercising later in the day. So I dropped to the mat in our bedroom for 40 quick push-ups (my current max) and then did a quick set of curls. Afterward, feeling some mild shoulder soreness, I pondered a bike ride. But then I wondered: Would exercise before or after the shot enhance or inhibit vaccine effectiveness? And might getting my blood pumping make me feel better? Or worse?
There’s not a lot of research on this, especially specific to the Covid-19 vaccines, but the upshot seems to be:
- Exercising before the shot is probably fine, maybe even wise, especially as part of an ongoing effort at physical activity and fitness.
- If you feel sick after the shot, that means your immune system is hard at work, and it’s not the time to stress your body out further. Rest up (though call a healthcare provider if the symptoms become serious).
- If you feel fine afterward, your body is still working hard in reaction to the vaccine, so take it easy, but frankly there’s no clear research to suggest you should not be active.
Before the shot
Generally, research suggests that being in really good shape helps a body mount a better immune response from a vaccine, but more study is needed to confirm the effect, and to separate out the impact on elite athletes versus otherwise relatively fit people.
A 2014 review of several studies concluded that exercise prior to getting a vaccine can improve vaccine efficacy, meaning the body develops a stronger immune defense against the targeted disease. “However, the evidence is not conclusive, with other studies showing no appreciable impact of exercise on vaccine response,” researchers wrote recently in the journal Lancet.
After the shot
Some people experience no symptoms other than a mildly sore arm after a Covid vaccine. Others have become notably ill, with fever, headache and body aches, typically for one to three days. Some people, including a handful I’ve spoken to, become so ill they’re effectively out for the count anywhere from eight to twelve hours or more. With the first shot, I had no notable reaction, but my wife was down with flu-like symptoms for two days.
Post-shot symptoms do not mean you have Covid-19: The vaccine does not give you the disease. Lack of symptoms does not mean the vaccine isn’t working.
There’s no firm evidence to indicate whether or not a single bout of exercise immediately before or after innoculation is good or bad. Some research suggests exercising for days and weeks afterward can boost the immune response, but the studies are not Covid-specific, and not highly conclusive.
“I don’t think there’s anything dangerous about exercising after you get the vaccine,” Humberto Choi, MD, a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told Health magazine.
Avoid Painkillers Before and After Covid Vaccine, Experts Say
Mild fever or other symptoms means the vaccine is working. Don’t mess with that.
How the body responds to a vaccine can in fact be altered by the things we do. For example, evidence indicates that taking painkillers before or after a Covid shot can inhibit to some degree the vaccine’s ability to do its job: illicit a response from the immune system.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t weighed in on the exercise-after-vaccine question. The agency does suggest drinking plenty of fluids and dressing lightly to reduce discomfort from vaccine-induced fever, should you experience one. Oh, and the CDC offers this tip to reduce any pain or discomfort at the site of the shot: “Use or exercise your arm.” I’m assuming that means move it around in circles or something. Yeah, not so helpful.
Here, perhaps, is as good a bottom-line as you’re going to get:
“For the most part, you can go about your day as you normally would after your Covid-19 vaccination,” the Cleveland Clinic advises. “But if you start to feel the effects of it, there’s nothing wrong with a little rest and self-care.”
Indeed, we could all use a little of that right about now.