Everything you need to know about working out before and after the Covid vaccine, according to an expert sports scientist.
Over 47 million people in the UK have had their first dose of the Covid vaccination, according to official government stats. All adults have now been invited for their jabs, and the rollout is expected to start for 16-17-year-olds over the next few weeks.
There’s all sorts of questions about what post-vaccine life looks like, including how we’ll holiday, socialise and work – but the immediate impact of the coronavirus jab shouldn’t be overlooked either. You probably know by now that you may experience side effects, and while that doesn’t mean you should cancel all of your plans, it does mean that you should be cautious about what activities you choose to do.
That’s particularly true when it comes to exercising. If you’re wondering if it’s safe to exercise with muscle soreness, particularly in your jabbed arm, or whether a workout can help or hinder your body’s response to the vaccine, here’s everything you need to know.
Can I exercise before the COVID-19 vaccine?
“Exercise in the lead up to the vaccination (ie the day before) is fine and may in fact increase the likelihood of a beneficial response to the vaccine by improving your immune response. This hasn’t been shown with the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine but has been reported with the flu vaccine,” says Dr James Hull, associate professor at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health at University College London.
Research, including a 2019 paper published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science, has shown that exercise can improve immunity in the long term, but each exercise bout also causes an instant (albeit transient) increase in white blood cells, cytokines and other immune responses.
Despite this, Dr Hull says that you shouldn’t exercise vigorously on the day of vaccination. “It’s just a logical approach,” he says. “If you then get a reaction including muscle pain or headaches, you won’t know if it’s the vaccine or the vigorous exercise you’ve done.”
Can I exercise after the COVID-19 vaccine?
If you had plans to join a workout class after your vaccine, you might want to re-plan. “Light exercise is fine but we generally recommend avoiding very hard exercise in the 48 hours post vaccination,” says Dr Hull. “This is on the basis that a large proportion of people will develop some, usually minor, side effects (eg headache and muscle aches).”
Dr Hull’s research has found that 83% of young people who had the Pfizer vaccine reported local reactogenicity (ie arm aches) and 50% of people had systemic reactogenicity including fatigue and headache.
Is it safe to exercise after the COVID-19 vaccine?
Working out when you feel nauseous, fatigued, headachy or have muscle pain is never advised, whether that’s through illness, a hangover, a vaccine or any other reason. As for whether your workout impact your vaccine? “There’s no known evidence for exercise to impact the effectiveness of the vaccine,” says Dr Hull.
If you feel completely side effect free, you are probably safe to exercise. But given that side-effects can take a while to develop, there’s no need to push yourself. “I would stick to gentle exercise such as walking for 48 hours,” reiterates Dr Hull. “Unless you are a very elite or professional athlete, there’s simply no need to exercise on the day of your appointment.”
Remember that the vaccine doesn’t mean you are immune to coronavirus or can’t pass it on to other people, so if you do decide to go to the gym or play sport, ensure that you are training safely.
Most importantly, take it slow and give yourself a break if you need to. Your immune system will be working hard in response to the vaccine, so don’t try to put your body under too much other pressure.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).