For more information on why this connection could be scientifically promising, Mark Conroy, MD, an expert in emergency and sports medicine, analyzes what happens to the body when you exercise and why it can benefit your immune system.
What are antibodies anyway?
Antibodies are disease-fighting agents produced by the body, says Dr. Conroy. Usually, antibodies develop when the body comes in contact with a virus or pathogen (that is, when you get sick with something). The immune system then creates the mechanism for killing these particles, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Enter the stage on the left: vaccines. Vaccines are valuable tools for promoting the growth of antibodies without to get sick first. Think about it: get test answers from a classmate (shot) and hide them up your sleeve during the test. Vaccines give the immune system the opportunity to make antibodies, so when you finally come in contact with a pathogen, the hope is that your body is ready to crush them.
Okay, but how does exercise affect the immune system?
Exercise has a significant effect on the immune system, says Dr. Conroy. Exercise, intense exercise in particular, triggers a stress reaction in the body. Stress responses usually cause the immune system to respond in a variety of ways, including the production of antibodies.
In addition, lymph fluid is the primary immune system for transporting essential disease-fighting agents. The lymph, unlike blood, does not have a unique muscle like the heart to pump it. In contrast, the constant contraction of your musculoskeletal system promotes lymph flow, which in turn helps your body fight disease-causing pathogens. This is a complicated way of saying that movement can help your immune system carry disease-fighting agents, waste, dead cells, residues to the organs that flush them out of your system. This is why walking can help you overcome the hangover: Your movement can get things where they need to go faster.
In this study, participants who cycled on a stationary bike or took a brisk 90-minute walk after their COVID-19 or flu vaccination appointment produced more antibodies in the next four weeks than those who continued their daily routine after vaccination. Those who exercised for 45 minutes did not record elevated antibody levels.
This study is an excellent introduction to exercise as an immune-boosting activity, says Dr. Conroy. “We know that exercise has many health benefits from cardiovascular benefits, blood sugar benefits, improvements in mental health and stress management,” says Dr. Conroy. “We also know that exercise can boost your immune system in a number of ways.” In this case, he says, more antibodies are better than no antibodies at all, and increased antibody production is even better. The results are a good omen for further information and research.
It is worth noting that the sample group here was small: only 78 people. Thus, the results show the need for more research on the subject, says Dr. Conroy. It’s the beginning of an exciting, necessary research to draw a solid line between exercise and vaccine effectiveness. In the meantime, remember that the best way to protect yourself from serious illness is to get your COVID-19 vaccine.
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