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Regular exercise may boost effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines

“Public health messaging should encourage physical activity."

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Regular exercise can increase the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccinations, according to the study. (Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Regular exercise may boost the effectiveness of COVID-19 jabs, according to a new study.

The more regular physical activity, the more protective vaccination seems to be, say scientists.

The level of protection afforded against serious infection rises in tandem with the amount of physical activity done, according to the findings published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine

Study participants who were fully vaccinated and who clocked up high weekly levels of physical activity were nearly three times less likely to be admitted to hospital than those who were vaccinated but in the low physical activity category, say scientists.

Previously published research on the additive effects of physical activity on vaccination against various infections suggests that it enhances the body’s antibody response.

But it wasn't known if it might also apply to SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19 infection.

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Regular exercise helps maintain mitochondrial quality. (Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

To try and find out, South African researchers drew on anonymized medical records, and wearable activity tracker data for healthcare workers belonging to a medical insurance scheme as well as a health promotion and behavioral change program.

Participants were mapped to physical activity categories using their average monthly levels in the two years preceding the start of the study: under 60 minutes of a week; at least 60 to 149 minutes; and 150 minutes or more.

COVID-19 swab test results were analyzed for more than 53,000 participants with low levels of physical activity, over 62,000 with medium levels, and 79,952 with high levels.

Complete health, COVID-19 vaccination and physical activity data were obtained for 196,444 adults who tested negative for SARS-CoV-2.

Vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 among fully vaccinated people in the low physical activity category was 60 percent. In other words, the risk of hospital admission was reduced by 60 percent in that group.

Comparable risk reductions for those in the medium and high physical activity groups were, respectively, 72 percent and 86 percent.

Study author Professor Jon Patricios, of the University of the Witwatersrand, said: "Those who were fully vaccinated and who clocked up high weekly levels of physical activity were nearly three times less likely to be admitted to hospital than those who were vaccinated but in the low physical activity category.

"Similarly, those in the medium physical activity category were nearly 1.5 times less likely to be admitted to hospital with COVID-19.

“The findings suggest a possible dose-response where high levels of physical activity were associated with higher vaccine effectiveness.

“This substantiates the WHO recommendations for regular physical activity - namely, that 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week has meaningful health benefits in preventing severe disease, in this context against a communicable viral infection.”

He said exactly how physical activity enhances vaccination isn’t fully understood, but "may be a combination of enhanced antibody levels, improved T cell immunosurveillance, and psychosocial factors."

Prof Patricios says that mitochondria - the energy powerhouses of cells - have a particularly important part in immunity.

He believes physical activity helps maintain mitochondrial quality, enabling repair or elimination of damaged mitochondria and promoting the growth of new ones.

Prof Patricios added: “Public health messaging should encourage physical activity as a simple, cost-effective way of enhancing vaccine effectiveness to mitigate the risk of severe COVID-19 illness requiring hospital admission.”

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