As California opens up COVID-19 vaccination eligibility to everyone age 16 and older, UC San Diego Health sports medicine specialists Samuel Galloway, MD, and Alan Shahtaji, DO, are available to discuss what people should know about exercise before and after vaccination.
Exercise and the immune system: Regular exercise, along with good nutrition, sleep and stress reduction, is helpful in maintaining a healthy immune system. Experts recommend maintaining a regular exercise routine before and after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. But you can go too far: Overtraining syndrome happens when you are exercising too vigorously and depleting your body of nutrients over time, subsequently weakening your immune system and putting yourself at higher risk of getting sick.
Exercise and vaccination timing: There is no evidence showing that exercising too soon before or after COVID-19 vaccination reduces its effect in any way. A study that looked at timing of the flu vaccine after training found no difference in vaccine efficacy with exercise anywhere from two to 26 hours after inoculation. The only limitations are the potential side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine itself. If you are feeling tired or having body aches or chills, you many not feel like exercising and it is okay to take a couple of days off from exercise to allow your body time to rest. It may be counterproductive to try and push through an intense workout if you are feeling fatigued, and would be better to just do a light walk or let your body recuperate for an extra day.
Exercise while experiencing vaccine side effects: If you are having side effects such as arm soreness or feeling fatigued and you do choose to work out, you want to make sure you are still performing exercises with proper technique to reduce the risk of injuring yourself. If you are having severe side effects/symptoms after receiving your vaccination, consult with your doctor or go to an Emergency Room for evaluation.
Returning to exercise after time off: If you have underlying health problems or if it has been a long time since you have exercised, please consult with your doctor to determine an appropriate individualized exercise routine for you. Experts recommend trying to reach a goal of 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise per week, with a couple of days of resistance training or weights mixed in. If you are not at this goal or not exercising at all currently, we recommend starting slowly and working your way up to this amount over time.
Returning to gyms and other indoor exercise locations: Until you are fully vaccinated, experts would recommend you work out on your own or in an outdoor environment with masks and social distancing. Once you are fully vaccinated, you are at much lower risk of contracting COVID-19 and may be able to return to indoor gyms. Experts still recommend wearing a mask to decrease potential exposure risk to others since it is still not clear whether fully vaccinated people can carry and transmit COVID-19. You are considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after you have completed the vaccine series (two shots for Pfizer and Moderna, one shot for Johnson & Johnson).
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