October 25, 2011 at 12:39 pm , by Amelia Harnish
If you’ve ever had the flu, you know you don’t want to get it again. It hits you like a ton of bricks: the worst combination of fever, chills and body aches you’ve ever experienced, leaving you curled up on your couch, thinking, If this doesn’t end soon, I give up! That’s what I’ve experienced, anyway, and that’s why I’m getting a flu shot. It’s the most important thing you can do to escape the misery.
Now there’s some exciting evidence that there’s even more you can do. Researchers at Iowa State University found that college students who exercised after getting the flu vaccine doubled their immune response compared with college students who remained sedentary. The study was small, so the next step is looking at how moderate exercise, such as going for a walk, done right after vaccination can affect immune response in a larger group of people, says Marian Kohut, Ph.D, professor of kinesiology at ISU and lead study author. We already know that people who regularly exercise are better protected from the flu, so the researchers are optimistic that some moderate exercise right after the shot may boost immune response, too.
When you get vaccinated, you’re exposed to an inactive flu virus. Your body produces antibodies to the virus, even though it doesn’t make you sick, so that if you come across the flu virus later on it’s easier for you to fight it off. Exercise seems to boost this initial immune response, which can mean better protection throughout the year. It’s still unclear exactly why it helps so much, but an earlier study showed that exercise increases your immune cells’ production of the virus-fighting chemical interferon. The increase in circulation you get when you exercise may also help, says Dr. Kohut.
So why not give it a try? It can’t hurt! After you get your flu vaccine, go for a brisk walk, or plan to get your shot right before one of your regular workouts.
And yes, we practice what we preach. That’s Julie, LHJ’s health director, above, getting her flu shot. Now excuse us while we go run around the block!