Study participants tried to maintain a pace that kept their heart rate around 120 to 140 beats per minute. Photo by Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University
Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Ninety minutes of light-to-moderate exercise directly after flu or COVID-19 vaccination may boost antibody response, a new study found.
Iowa State University researchers studied the effect of 90 minutes of an outdoor walk, jog, cycle on a stationary bike or other aerobic exercise after two different types of influenza vaccines or post-Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity.
Researchers assigned one group to do 90 minutes of exercise directly after immunization and another group to avoid exercise and go about their daily routine.
They found increased antibody response in the following four weeks in participants who did the 90 minutes of exercise compared to those advised not to exercise on the first day of vaccination. They also found similar results with mice who ran on treadmills.
During the 90 minutes of exercise, researchers asked participants to focus on maintaining a pace that kept their heart rate around 120 to 140 beats per minute.
Vaccines help boost the immune system, including antibodies, which are the body's "search and destroy" line of defense against something foreign, such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites, researchers said in a news release on the study.
Researchers also tested if there would be the same result with 45 minutes of exercise, but found that was not enough.
"Our preliminary results are the first to demonstrate a specific amount of time can enhance the body's antibody response to the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine and two vaccines for influenza," said Iowa State kinesiology Professor Marian Kohut, lead author of the study.
The researchers said that the 90 minutes of exercise post-immunization benefited people at various fitness levels, with half of the people in the study being either overweight or obese.
Kohut said that working out may benefit the immune system because it increases blood and lymph flow to help circulate immune cells, and as they move around, they're more likely to detect something foreign.
"But a lot more research is needed to answer the why and how," Kohut said. "There are so many changes that take place when we exercise -- metabolic, biochemical, neuroendocrine, circulatory. So, there's probably a combination of factors that contribute to the antibody response we found in our study."
The mouse experiment also indicated a type of protein produced during exercise helps generate virus specific antibodies and T-cells.
Kohut said that the research team may do a follow-up study to determine whether 60 minutes of exercise is enough.