With cold and flu season in full swing, preventing viral illnesses is top priority. The most important thing you can do? Get vaccinated against the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting the flu vaccine dramatically reduces your risk of developing the flu and suffering from complications.
"Getting the flu vaccine is more important now due to COVID-19, since a double infection with the flu and COVID-19 can be much more challenging to treat," says Ramsey Shehab, M.D., a sports medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health. Want to enhance your immune response to the vaccine and further reduce your odds of getting sick? Exercise just before or after you get the flu shot.
Exercise and Vaccine Response
While it takes the body up to two weeks to build antibodies against the virus, it turns out exercise can enhance your body's response to the vaccine.
“Because exercise increases blood and lymphatic flow to our working muscles, it also increases the circulation of our immune cells. In turn our body produces more of those cells to maintain balance,” explains Dr. Shehab. And studies show that when people exercise close to the time they receive a flu shot, their bodies mount a greater response to the vaccine.
Exercise and Immune Response
Exercise is a healing prescription for almost any ailment. It can reduce blood pressure levels, reverse obesity, reduce pain levels and enhance mood.
"Staying fit is especially important with COVID-19 since it can help reduce the likelihood that you'll contract an illness," Dr. Shehab says. "In fact, studies show that athletes get fewer upper respiratory infections and common colds than the general population. We think this is because the increased exercise is constantly inducing their body to produce more and more immune cells."
But you can get too much of a good thing. Extreme athletes and those who participate in endurance sports, such as marathons or triathlons, may have a reduced immune response.
In addition to getting a flu shot and getting moderate exercise, there are plenty of things you can do to boost your immunity and reduce your odds of getting sick:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Stay hydrated.
- Wear a mask.
- Practice good hand hygiene.
- Maintain a safe physical distance between yourself and other people.
And if you still develop a tickle in your throat or spike a fever? Check in with your doctor about your symptoms. It's always best to err on the side of caution, particularly in the age of COVID-19.
Dr. Ramsey Shehab is the deputy chief of Sports Medicine at Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine and Henry Ford Medical Center - Bloomfield Township.