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The UK administered 132 million life-saving COVID-19 vaccinations last year, with booster rollout ongoing.
Did you know? Search around whether you can exercise after your COVID vaccine is up 2,650% on Google.
This is perhaps unsurprising given that 132 million vaccines were administered last year. “There are loads of questions on people’s minds,” explains Ihab Khreis, personal trainer at Gymbox. Things like what the side effects of the vaccine are, what type you should get, and whether AstraZeneca really causes blood clots?
Another one is clearly the do’s and dont’s of exercising post-vaccine. You’ll know it can make you feel a little ropey for 24 to 48 hours, but what if it doesn’t? Are you okay to go about your sweat sessions as normal?
Here’s what a PT and a doctor have to say about whether or not exercise after your jab is recommended – and how long you should avoid your gym workouts (and home workouts) for, if you’ve just had your vaccine or booster.
So.. can I workout after my COVID vaccine?
According to doctor Deborah Lee0 of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, it depends on your side effects.
“The Covid vaccine – and booster – can cause side effects such as fatigue, headaches and fever, as well as soreness and tenderness in the arm at the vaccination site,” she explains.
While these are short term side effects that usually only last a couple of days, they are side effects that might make you feel like you don’t want to exercise.
But interestingly, Lee points out that while there is no conclusive evidence as of yet, preliminary research and papers indicate that physical exercise has the potential to improve the vaccine outcome.
What is the link between exercising and a positive vaccine outcome?
Years of research in the field of exercise – and studies looking at the effects of exercise on the immune system specifically – have shown that the immune system is responsive to the effects of exercise, which you likely know. Regular exercise and a balanced diet = a healthy immune system, right?
Well, sure, but there’s more to it than that. “In the 2009 swine flu epidemic, those who exercised regularly were found to have lower rates of infection – and less severe infections – than those who were inactive,” Lee explains. “People who undertook moderate-high levels of physical exercise were found to have a 28% reduction in upper respiratory tract symptoms.”
Similarly, in another study, runners exhibited a lower risk of dying from pneumonia compared to non-runners – including in those with conditions like type two diabetes. “Exercise specialists are beginning to think that exercise could be seen as an adjuvant to the vaccine,” explains Lee.
However, she stresses that what type of vaccine is best assisted by exercise is unknown, and that there is no agreed consensus on the amount or type of exercise that might be required, or when it needs to be undertaken.
So how does exercise work to protect – or boost – the immune system in such a way? “The reasons are not well understood,” Lee continues. However, what scientists do know is that a bout of exercise results in a fresh round of immunosurveillance, as immunoglobulins and anti-inflammatory cytokines (aka, cell signalling molecules) are released into the bloodstream.
Not to mention the fact that during exercise, there is a subtle increase in stress hormones, leading to the release of interleukin -6 (IL -6). “This is a potent anti-inflammatory mediator – meaning that, after exercise, chronic inflammation is dampened down for several hours,” explains Lee.
Chronic inflammation underpins many of the chronic diseases we see today and is dangerous for you – so you can see that anything that helps to reduce it is a positive.
What have the NHS said about exercising post vaccination?
At present, there are no government or NHS guidelines around exercising after having your booster or vaccine, however the NHS website does state that you should be able to work as normal.
But where does this leave exercise? “The short answer is yes, you can probably exercise a day or so after,” reckons Khreis, disclaimer here: if, and only if, you feel well enough to do so.
Should you wait a certain amount of time before exercising?
As above, it’s kind of up to you and how you feel post-vaccine.
Khreis wouldn’t recommend exercising the day after you’ve had your booster or vaccination to make sure you give yourself enough time to see how you react to the vaccine. “Some people have been lucky enough to not experience any symptoms, while others have struggled with muscle soreness for up to a week,” he explains.
Bottom line: if, post-vaccination, the arm pain subsides, or you have no side effects, both experts say you should feel free to train. If you do experience side effects, however, then it is advised to wait until they subside before you go back into full training.
Advice for anyone who is worried about exercising post-jab?
Some movement is always better than no movement, or so says Khreis. “Listen to your body – it will tell you how it feels and whether you’re ready to workout,” he explains.
Lee agrees, adding that keeping physically active is the best way to arm your immune system for the COVID-19 vaccination, or to infection with the COVID-19 virus itself.
She continues: “Encouraging everyone to take regular exercise – which only lowers chronic inflammation and boosts immunity, before, during and after vaccination – seems a sensible strategy. But know this: you should really be exercising regularly long before you have the vaccine, too, not just afterwards.”