Health Tips > Prevention Plus > Getting the Most From Your Yearly Flu Shot by Adding Exercise

Getting the Most From Your Yearly Flu Shot by Adding Exercise

View All Section Pages

Getting the Most From Your Yearly Flu Shot by Adding Exercise

The dreaded flu season is here, whether or not you’ve had your flu shot. Influenza (a.k.a “flu”) is a contagious respiratory illness that is spread between people. It generally causes mild to moderate illness, but in severe cases, the flu can be deadly.

You can come down with the flu any time of year, but spread of the flu virus typically begins around October and can last as late as May, peaking in January or February.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are two general approaches to avoiding the flu: get the flu vaccine and avoid the spread of germs. An annual flu vaccine is the first line of defense against the flu and is recommended for everyone six months of age and older. It is especially important for people who are at high risk of serious flu complications, including: young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older. Vaccination also is important for health care workers, and other people who live with or care for high-risk people.

Unfortunately, the flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective. There are multiple strains of the flu, but the vaccine is only made to defend against one strain—the strain that is expected to be most severe that year. Overall effectiveness of the flu vaccine in actually preventing the flu is 50-60 percent.

There are some things you can do to bolster your immunity to the flu and the effectiveness of the vaccine (should you choose to receive it). Regular exercise is one factor that may improve your body’s response to the flu vaccine. Cooper Clinic Director of Clinical Research Nina Radford, MD explains.

Factors that Influence Immune Response:

When you receive the flu vaccine, your body responds by making antibodies to the vaccine. These antibodies can be considered “soldiers” of your immune system and will be present in the blood ready to fight off any flu virus you may be exposed to in the coming months.

But not every immune system responds the same. There are many factors that may influence the immune response, such as age, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, certain chronic diseases and excessive alcohol use. People who are at the highest risk of complications from the flu are also often those with the poorest immune response to the flu vaccine.

Can exercise really improve response to the flu vaccine?

A number of studies have identified exercise as a possible means to boost one’s immune response. These studies have evaluated the effectiveness of acute (one session) and chronic (months of regular exercise) on immune response.

Results of studies of acute exercise prior to vaccination on immune response are somewhat mixed. One recent study, found that healthy women ages 55 to 75 who performed one session of moderate intensity exercise before their flu vaccine showed greater immune response to the vaccine (higher antibody production) than women who did not exercise prior to receiving their vaccine. But the same study showed almost no difference in men who did or did not exercise before receiving the flu shot.

Most studies evaluating the effect of chronic exercise on the immune response have been focused on older patients and each has demonstrated an enhanced immune response following administration of the flu vaccine in older adults who either had higher levels of physical activity or who were enrolled in chronic exercise studies. Older patients most likely show the most benefit from exercise because the immune system declines with age.

What about exercising when you’re already sick?

If exercise serves as a booster to your immune system, can it expedite recovery when you’re already sick? According to the American College of Sports Medicine, mild to moderate exercise is not thought to be harmful to people experiencing symptoms of the common cold without fever—symptoms including runny nose, nasal congestion and sneezing. Though it isn’t necessarily harmful, there isn’t evidence that exercise can make you feel better and high intensity exercise while you are sick may actually make you feel worse.

It’s also important to keep in mind that some medications may adversely affect even a mild workout. Decongestants can increase blood pressure and heart rate and some antihistamines can make you groggy.

Listen to your body and let it be your guide. If you are miserable, forcing yourself to exercise will likely just make you feel worse. Rest is more helpful and important for a complete recovery than exercise. If you do exercise while you are sick and find your symptoms getting worse, reduce the intensity or length of your workout, or take a break from exercise until you are well.

Keep in mind that avoiding the spread of germs is equally important as receiving your flu vaccine. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, avoid close contact with sick people, stay home if you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms (except to go to the doctor) and clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.

Now, get up and get moving to have a healthy flu season!

Article provided by Cooper Aerobics Marketing and Communications.