With the raging flu epidemic this year, you may be using hand sanitizer like crazy and using paper towels to open public restroom doors. Smart strategies—now add a well-timed workout to your list of ways to stay healthy.
In a recent study, Iowa State University researchers gave a group of young adults the influenza vaccine and then had half of them sit for 90 minutes while the other half went for either a 90-minute jog or 90-minute bike ride post-shot. After the hour and a half, the scientists took blood samples from everyone and found that the exercisers had nearly twice the flu antibodies as those who relaxed, plus they had higher levels of cells that keep infection at bay.
Marian Kohut, Ph.D., professor of kinesiology at Iowa State who oversaw the study, told The New York Times that exercise may speed blood circulation and pump the vaccine away from the injection site to other parts of the body. It also could elevate the body's overall immune system, which, in turn, helps exaggerate the vaccination's effect.
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After performing similar studies wtih mice, Kohut found that 90 minutes seems to be the optimal amount of exercise. Longer workouts lead to fewer antibodies in the rodents, presumably because of a diminished immune response.
But if you prefer strength training to cardio, it's better to hit the iron before your shot, according to a U.K. study. Researchers there found that lifting weights for 20 minutes—and specifically doing biceps curls and lateral arm raises with 85 percent of the max weight you can lift—six hours before receiving the influenza vaccine also boosted antibody levels.
So if you haven't gotten your shot yet, do it—the influenza vaccination is the No. 1 recommendation for flu prevention, according to Philip Hagen, M.D., the preventative medicine doctor and medical editor of Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies. But since it's only 60 to 80 percent effective, schedule a cardio workout after you hit the doctor's office or do an arms workout before, and you may fortify your protection. If nothing else, you'll burn calories and build muscle!