Study: Simple Trick Doubles Flu Shot’s Effectiveness


andrew-cuomo-flu-shotAttention flu-shot procrastinators: If you are still planning to get vaccinated you might want to take one simple extra step that new research shows can pump up the shot’s effectiveness in a hurry.

Sports scientists at Iowa State University have found people who go for a moderate workout shortly after receiving a flu shot can significantly boost their immune systems’ ability to fight flu infections.

The research – led by Marian Kohut, an ISU professor of kinesiology – is the latest in a series of studies she has conducted on college students, seniors, and mice that have confirmed the connection between post-vaccination exercise and an increased immune-system response that primes the body to fight flu more aggressively.

For the new study, Kohut’s research team compared a group of young, healthy volunteers who went for a moderately paced 90-minute jog or bike ride 15 minutes after receiving a flu shot to a similar group of individuals who remained inactive after being inoculated. Researchers checked the study participants for blood levels of influenza antibodies – a measure of the body’s immune response and ability to fend off infection – at various times up to a month after they were vaccinated.

The results showed the volunteers who had exercised had “nearly double the antibody response” of the less-active group, said Kohut.

“We observed that 90 minutes of exercise performed just after receiving the vaccine increased antibody response to the vaccine at two and four weeks post-immunization,” Kohut said. She added that previous studies of mice had similar results, but found that exercising for 90 minutes proved to be more effective in boosting the immune system than workouts that were shorter (45 minutes) or longer (up to three hours).

The findings are particularly important for individuals who have waited until now to receive the flu vaccine. This year’s flu season has struck early and circulating strains are unusually severe, causing officials to declare public health emergencies in several U.S. cities. Virtually all states have reported widespread flu activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC also notes that, while it’s not too late to get a flu shot, this year’s vaccine is only 62 percent effective in warding off illness. What’s more, it can take up to two weeks after inoculation to provide protection from the virus. That’s one reason many people falsely believe the flu shot can give you influenza – in fact, it can’t – experts say. Individuals who come down with the flu after getting vaccinated are typically exposed to the virus after getting the shot but before sufficient levels of antibodies have built up in their bodies to fend off infection. The more antibodies a person has, the more protection they have against flu.

That’s why the new ISU research findings are so timely for anyone who’s delayed getting a flu shot and is now wondering if it’s too late. Kohut’s study provides strong evidence that, in fact, exercise can greatly enhance the vaccine’s effectiveness, even this late in the season.

The ISU work is the latest in a series of studies in recent years that have shown exercise – along with eating nutritious foods, getting ample sleep, and reducing stress – can boost immune system functions. Federal authorities generally recommend most adults get a minimum of 20-30 minutes of moderately intense activity – such as brisk walking, biking, jogging, or swimming – every day.

Researchers at the University of Illinois recently have found regular aerobic exercise can boost the effectiveness of the flu vaccine in seniors, who are especially vulnerable to flu complications that kill more than 20,000 Americans each year. The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, tracked 144 sedentary seniors for nearly a year after they began working out to improve their fitness levels.

After 10 months, the researchers found the seniors had higher influenza antibody counts after receiving the flu vaccine than a similar group of study participants who did not engage in regular aerobic activity. “These data support the hypothesis that regular endurance exercise improves influenza vaccine responses,” the researchers concluded.

In addition, British scientists with the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at the University of Birmingham found men and women who used weights to exercise the muscles of their arms where a flu shot was administered had a more “robust” immune system responses than those who did not. Their study – published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity – concluded: “Exercise of the muscle at the site of vaccine administration should be explored further as a possible behavioral adjuvant to vaccination.”

Health experts believe moderate exercise may boost the immune system by moving white blood cells that fight infections throughout the body more quickly and efficiently.

Kohut said the new ISU research has raised many questions about the connection between exercise and immunity. For instance, while her latest research showed a single bout of moderate exercise can boost the flu shot’s effectiveness for several weeks, other experiments have suggested regular workouts over longer periods of time may offer even greater benefits and be longer lasting.


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  1. “she has conducted on college students, seniors, and mice”- Whenever I make a lunch consisting of pizza topped with prune juice and hard cheese wedges I invite this same trifecta over to share it with me.