Avoid the Flu with Exercise and Double the Flu Shot Effectiveness

Exercise Boosts Flu Shot Effectiveness

Research suggests that you can almost double the effectiveness of the flu vaccine by doing a moderate-paced, 90-minute cardio workout after your flu shot.

Want to avoid catching the flu? New research shows that exercise helps prevent the flu. And one workout doubles the flu shot vaccine effectiveness!

Previous medical research has shown that regular cardiovascular exercise strengthens your immune system and helps prevent you from catching the flu.

And now, new studies show that exercise also helps improve the effectiveness of the flu shot. Even if you don’t exercise regularly, just one work out after you get the shot will help!


Regular Exercise Helps You Fight the Flu

Medical researchers have known for some time that regular cardiovascular exercise improves your immunity.

As a result, physically fit people who exercise regularly are less likely to catch colds and viruses. And when they do get sick, their symptoms are usually less severe and they usually get well faster.

This research also holds true when it comes to avoiding the flu virus. Numerous studies in both humans and mice have shown that people who exercise regularly are less like to catch the flu. And if they do catch the flu, they usually recover more quickly.

Exercise Improves the Flu Shot Effectiveness

Hoping to avoid the flu, many people get an annual flu shot. But most doctors and researchers estimate that the flu shot vaccine only prevents the flu about 50 to 70 percent of the time.

So how can you increase your odds of staying healthy?

Researchers at the University of Illinois discovered that regular exercise not only boosts your general immunity, but it also boosts the effectiveness of the flu shot vaccine.

In their 2009 research study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the researchers took two groups of sedentary elderly people and put them on a 10 month program. They put one group on a regular routine of moderate cardiovascular exercise, and they put one group on a regular routine of flexibility and balance training.

Then they gave each group the flu vaccine and checked on them during the flu season. 24 weeks after getting the flu shot, those that had exercised regularly had significantly higher flu antibodies in their blood than those that got the balance and flexibility training. And for those people that did catch the flu anyway, the exercise group had less severe symptoms and recovered faster.

Regular exercise made a big improvement in the effectiveness of the flu shot!

Exercise After Your Flu Shot: Even One Workout Helps!

So, if you are physically fit, your flu shot will probably be more effective in helping you avoid the flu. But what if you’re not currently fit?

You’re in luck! Iowa State University researchers found that working out after your flu shot significantly increases its effectiveness.

In the 2012 study overseen by Professor Marian Kohut, a group of healthy college students were given flu shots. Fifteen minutes later, half the students biked or jogged moderately for 90 minutes, while half the students relaxed.

One month later, the students that exercised had “nearly double” the flu antibodies compared to the students who just relaxed after their flu shots.

So, even if you aren’t very fit, a moderate 90 minute cardio workout after your flu shot will dramatically help boost the flu vaccine’s effectiveness!

But don’t overdo it. It’s important that you keep the exercise moderate and don’t overexert yourself. Professor Kohut warns that “There’s evidence that intense, prolonged exercise – running a marathon, for example – actually increases your susceptibility to respiratory infection, so avoid overtraining.”

Another Flu Shot Booster: Curls

Another study — this one done in 2007 at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. — found that flu vaccine effectiveness was also improved among adults who did bicep curls prior to getting their flu shots.

Researchers split 60 men and women into 2 groups. Six hours before getting flu shots, one group did strength training curls for their biceps while the other group rested.

Blood tests conducted 6 and 20 weeks after the shots showed significantly increased flu antibodies in the group that did the curls compared to the group that rested.

It should be noted that women showed a much greater improvement over men. But researchers speculated that this might have been due to that year’s specific flu vaccine, which generally worked better for men than for women. In other words, that year’s shot was already super effective for men, so there was not much room for improvement.

More research is needed, but it seems likely that doing some curls will help give your flu shoot a boost.

How Does Exercise Increase Flu Effectiveness?

Researchers don’t know exactly how exercise helps boost the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. But they have some ideas.

For starters, exercise generally boosts your immune system, which likely makes it more responsive to the vaccine. And the exercise helps increase blood flow and circulation, which more quickly spreads the vaccine around your body where your boosted immune system can do its job.

For example, strength training typically creates some inflammation in your muscles and blood flow increases to those areas to help the muscles recover and heal. Focusing on biceps therefore increased the blood flow to location of the shot. Similarly, the 90 minute cardio workout obviously got the participant’s blood flowing.

In both cases, the vaccine would have been spread out away from the injection site more quickly, and the subjects’ immune systems had a better opportunity to react to the vaccine.

How to Avoid the Flu With Exercise

Research shows exercise will likely help you avoid the flu. And if you do get sick, you’ll probably get well faster.

You have a big advantage if you are already exercising regularly. But everyone getting a flu shot will benefit from some bicep strength training before your vaccination or a moderate cardio workout afterwards. Just don’t overexert yourself, or you might weaken your immune system instead.

So now you have one more good reason to exercise regularly. And if you’re planning on a flu shot, try to plan a workout session the same day and give the vaccine an extra boost!

Have you gotten a flu shot? Do you exercise regularly? Did you try to work out after your shot? Did you get the flu? Share your experience and your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

References & Sources: (show)(hide)

    • Edwards KM, et al.
    • “Eccentric exercise as an adjuvant to influenza vaccination in humans.”
    • Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
    • 21.2 (Feb 2007): 209-17.
    • Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
    • School of Sport and Exercise Sciences. University of Birmingham, UK.
    • Lowder, T, et al.
    • “Moderate exercise early after influenza virus infection reduces the Th1 inflammatory response in lungs of mice.”
    • Exercise Immunology Review.
    • 12 (Dec 2006): 97-111.
    • Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
    • Department of Kinesiology. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
    • Reynolds, Gretchen.
    • “Boosting Your Flu Shot Response With Exercise”
    • New York Times: Well Physed.
    • New York: The New York Times Company.
    • 16 Jan 2013.
    • Sim, YJ, et al.
    • “Chronic exercise reduces illness severity, decreases viral load, and results in greater anti-inflammatory effects than acute exercise during influenza infection.”
    • The Journal of Infectious Diseases.
    • 200.9 (Nov 2009): 1434-42.
    • Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
    • Department of Immunobiology. College of Human Sciences. Iowa State University, Ames Iowa.
    • Woods, JA, et al.
    • “Cardiovascular exercise training extends influenza vaccine seroprotection in sedentary older adults: the immune function intervention trial.”
    • Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
    • 57.12 (Dec 2009): 2183-91.
    • Malden, MA: Blackwell Science.
    • Department of Kinesiology and Community Health. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Leave a Comment

All comments are moderated.

* Denotes required field.