New research finds exercise makes the COVID-19 vaccine more effective and boosts immunity

The six studies examined more than a half million participants.

Exercise protects you against COVID: A woman stretching out after working out in her living room
(Image credit: Getty)

The six studies examined more than a half million participants.

A new study from Glasgow Caledonian University has found that keeping fit and healthy - that is, making sure you're doing regular physical activity for 30 minutes or more five times a week - not only strengthens your immune system, but decreases your risk of catching or dying from infectious diseases, such as COVID-19.

The findings, led by profession Sebastien Chastin, found that if you're physically fit, you're a third less likely to catch a disease or fall ill from one.

Physical fitness also changes how your body responds to a vaccine - being physically fitter increases the effectiveness of vaccines, their findings reported.

These findings are particularly important in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and as the death rate continues to soar globally.

The team 'systematically gathered and reviewed all available evidence relating to the effect of physical activity on the risk of falling ill and dying from infectious diseases, such as pneumonia', according to The Conversation. They studied infectious diseases like pneumonia specifically as it's one of the most frequent conditions COVID victims have died from.

Fitness boosts immunity and makes vaccines more effective: A woman running

Why not study coronavirus itself? The study began too early into the first wave of COVID-19 for the researchers to specifically focus on it, however the results still have serious and far-reaching implications for the current pandemic.

They further shared with The Conversation: "We found consistent and compelling evidence across six studies involving more than a half million participants that meeting the recommended guidelines for physical activity – 30 minutes of activity, five days a week – reduces the risk of falling ill and dying of infectious diseases by 37%."

"We also found reliable evidence that regular physical activity strengthens the human immune system. Across 35 independent randomised controlled trials – the gold standard for scientific evidence – regular physical activity resulted in elevated levels of the antibody immunoglobulin IgA. This antibody coats the mucosal membrane of our lungs and other parts of our body where viruses and bacteria can enter."

"Regular physical activity also increases the number of CD4+ T cells, which are responsible for alerting the immune system of an attack and regulate its response."

"Finally, in the randomised controlled trials we studied, vaccines appear more effective if they are administered after a programme of physical activity. A person who is active is 50% more likely to have a higher antibody count after the vaccine than somebody who is not active."

Although in the UK figures on running, home workouts, strength training and even outdoor gym classes are booming, sadly, globally there's been a drop in physical activity rates. Whether this is because of the lockdowns and fear of catching coronavirus is unknown, but it is worrying when physical fitness has been found to help protect you from the virus.

"Instead, an apparent decrease in physical activity levels has been seen globally in the past year," shares professor Chastin. "This is a dangerous trend that could make the population more vulnerable to infectious and chronic diseases in the short term. Left unchecked, it will also leave a damaging long-term legacy and increase the burden of disease and its associated social and economic cost."

Keeping fit can often feel overwhelming, but do remember that fitness is all about working out what works for you. 30 minutes of exercise could look like a 30 minute walk, dance, yoga flow or even roller blading session. Do read our guide to exercise motivation, if you're in need of a boost.

Ally Head
Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, eight-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She regularly hosts panels and presents for things like the MC Sustainability Awards, has an Optimum Nutrition qualification, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw, with health page views up 98% year on year, too. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.