Inquiring minds want to know: can I do yoga after a COVID-19 vaccine–or other kinds of exercise? The COVID vaccine is new to all of us. But the research on physical activity, vaccines, and immunity is anything but. Here’s what it tells us.
Understanding how exercise/yoga can strengthen immunity
Despite all the ads for immune boosters you see, the best way to keep your immune system as strong as possible is an overall healthy lifestyle. That means: eat a variety of wholesome foods, get enough sleep, don’t smoke, and curb alcohol intake.
But what’s just as important is watching your stress levels and making movement a priority. Research on the effects of exercise on the immune system are incredibly positive. An analysis from the H1N1 epidemic in 2009 specifically names a connection between a shorter duration and lower severity of H1N1 and having exercised prior to the infection. While we don’t know if this is true specifically with COVID, plenty of other data supports exercise’s positive effect on the immune system as a whole–not just during certain illnesses.
In part, exercise and yoga help you maintain a strong immune system because they’re stress-busters and increase circulation. Circulation is key because, like Dr. Moghaddam at the Henry Ford Health System says, it lets specific blood cells better travel through the bloodstream, where they can fight infections. It also makes sure all cells get the nutrients they need, which can help you stay healthy.
But can I exercise or do yoga after a COVID-19 vaccine? What about before my vaccine?
Our immune systems are infinitely complex, and nothing about them–or our bodies in general–happen in a silo. Everything is intricately connected. But we do know that even one sweaty session can be helpful for immunity, including when it comes to how you respond to a vaccine.
The reason: when we do yoga or other exercise, the changes in our bodies activate a cascade of changes in our immune system. Researchers say these changes help prep us for possible antigens, or foreign substances. It makes our body more ready to make antibodies. We need antibodies to protect ourselves against illness, and we need to make them for a vaccine to be effective, too.
So, yes, exercise or yoga before your COVID-19 vaccine is a plus (check out our thoughts on intensity below). But after your vaccine? Be sure to listen to your body on what it needs and feels like. Don’t push yourself too hard. And always check with your physician on what’s right for you post-vaccine.
Does what type of exercise or intensity matter for immune-strengthening?
High-intensity workouts–from HIIT to hot yoga and more–have become super popular. But they may not be the greatest thing for strengthening your immune system. That’s because high-intensity exercises raise stress hormone levels in your system. Stress hormones aren’t bad. They’re actually incredibly important because they help keep your immune system in check. But the catch is: many of us walk around with too high of the stress hormone cortisol as it is. And if your workout raises it even more, you could wind up with increased inflammation. Some inflammation is good for health and immunity. But too much can mean issues down the road. For example, just a few conditions linked to high inflammation are cancer, depression, autoimmunity, estrogen dominance, PCOS, and more.
So what intensity of exercise should you aim for? If you’re up for it, go for a moderate-intensity activity or a flow yoga class. Moderate-intensity exercise has a lot of benefits without such drawbacks of elevated cortisol. Among other things, moderate physical activity creates small, temporary increases in interleukin-6 (IL-6), which helps with inflammation and how you process fats and glucose. IL-6 also plays an important role in infection.
Got it. Do I still need to wear a mask after my COVID-19 vaccine? Even when exercising?
We can’t wait until things are back to normal too. But if you’re exercising out in public, at the gym, or in a group class? Yes, you do need to wear a mask after your COVID-19 vaccine and still follow any public health recommendations in your area. There are a few reasons why.
Vaccines don’t promise instant results. After you get one, your body goes through a process to help you develop immunity. In healthy individuals, that process can take a few weeks. During that time, your body produces white blood cells that offer you protection–namely, T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes. If you throw out your mask right after your shot, you could catch COVID-19 before your body has had a chance to ramp up the antibodies that will protect you. Plus, even if you are asymptomatic, you could still unknowingly transmit the virus to others who haven’t had or responded to their vaccines yet either.