Vaccination and exercise: the best boost for your immune response

It’s Movement for Good Health Month – time to prime your body for COVID-19 vaccination

Want to get the very best protection out of your COVID-19 vaccination? Start being active now, before the Phase 2 roll-out begins!

A team of researchers, led by Glasgow Caledonian University’s Professor of Health Behaviour Dynamics Sebastien Chastin, recently found that “physical activity can boost the effectiveness of vaccines by up to 40 per cent”.

That’s an incredible increase.

The researchers made their findings after a review of 16,698 worldwide epidemiological studies published between January 1980 and April 2020. They also found that “…regular exercise where you get out of breath boosts your immunity to infectious disease by 31 per cent and it increases the number of immune cells in the body in the first line of defence which is the mucosal layer of antibodies. These cells are responsible for identifying foreign agents in the body without depressing the rest of the immune system so it’s perfectly safe and protects you against infectious disease,” according to Professor Chastin.

“We also found that if you add physical activity to your vaccination programme it increases the potency of the vaccination. We are recommending a 12-weeks physical activity programme before vaccination which could result in 20 to 40 per cent more effective immunisation.”

This research builds on a lot of previous work which shows that people who move more have more healthy and resilient immune systems, says Rogier van Bever Donker, President of the South African Society of Physiotherapy. “Decades of research show that habitual exercise improves immune regulation, and long before COVID-19, a number of published papers showed that regular exercise improves response to vaccination.”

The gold standard, says van Bever Donker, is 150-300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise, like walking, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous exercise like running or dancing. “But the truth is, all movement matters,” he says. “Whether you’re going to a gym or doing your own housework or home maintenance, doing anything regularly that gets you a little out of breath, a little sweaty, will improve your physical function and positively affect your immune system. So our recommendation as physiotherapists is that you aim to get two and a half hours of some form of moderate to vigorous activity every week in the run-up to your vaccination – and keep your immune system healthy by making this part of your life in future!”

If you have any concerns or questions about movement for good health, speak to your physiotherapist.

Find a physiotherapist at