COVID-19 has drastically changed our lives over the past 2 years — from the way we interact with other people to the way we work. It has even changed the way we exercise: The digital fitness boom has made exercise more accessible than ever.
These days, the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine is helping us get back some sense of normalcy in daily life. For many people, that means going back to the gym or pool. But, as with any kind of new treatment, people naturally have questions.
Whether you work out at home or in a public space, you may be wondering if you can exercise after getting the vaccine, how soon you can get back to it, and how much you can do. We’ve got the answers for you below.
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Is it safe to exercise after the COVID vaccine?
The short answer is, most often, yes. No research has shown that it’s harmful to exercise after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The only safety considerations depend on your body’s reaction to the vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the following common vaccine side effects (1):
pain, redness, and swelling at the injection sitefatigueheadachemuscle painchillsfevernausea
The CDC actually recommends exercising your arm to help reduce discomfort at the injection site (1).
Exercise after the first injection may not be much of an issue if your side effects are minimal.
A 2021 New England Journal of Medicine study notes that side effects may be more intense after the second shot than the first. However, it does not mention any danger as a result of exercising (2).
You may or may not experience some side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine. But research has not identified any risks associated with exercising after getting the vaccine.
What are the risks of exercising after the COVID vaccine?
Approximately 50% of people who receive the vaccine experience side effects, usually after the second dose. Fatigue is the most common. Exercise may make these side effects worse (2).
However, there are no real risks of exercising after the COVID-19 vaccine.
Exercise may worsen side effects such as fatigue. However, there are no greater risks associated with exercising after the vaccine than with exercising before receiving the vaccine.
When to avoid exercise after the COVID vaccine
You may want to avoid moderate to vigorous exercise immediately after receiving the vaccine if you have an allergic reaction to the vaccine itself.
Common symptoms of an allergic reaction to the vaccine include: hives, swelling, and wheezing (a sign of respiratory distress). These symptoms usually occur within 4 hours of receiving the vaccine (3).
If you experience these symptoms, contact a doctor. However, if the reaction is severe, the CDC recommends calling 911 (1).
If you have a history of asthma or any respiratory issues, you may want to avoid vigorous aerobic exercise until you know how your body will react to the vaccine.
In addition, you may want to have any management medications on hand when you return to exercise, such as an inhaler, an EpiPen, or Benadryl (4).
If you experience hives, swelling, or wheezing after getting the vaccine, contact a doctor. You may want to avoid vigorous exercise until you know how your body reacts to the vaccine, especially if you have existing respiratory issues.
What types of exercise should I do after the COVID vaccine?
There is no specific type of exercise recommended after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. However, exercise in general has been shown to be an effective immunity booster and may even increase the effectiveness of the vaccine.
In a 2021 review on exercise and immunity, researchers noted that moderate to vigorous physical activity resulted in a 31% reduced risk of community-acquired diseases and a 37% reduced risk of mortality from infectious diseases (5).
In addition, exercise has been shown to increase the potency of the vaccine by increasing antibody concentration. These results were not specific to COVID-19, but this is another benefit of habitual exercise (5).
The review looked at aerobic exercise (running, cycling, etc.) and resistance training individually and in combination. All proved to be beneficial (5).
Habitual exercise such as aerobic exercise and resistance training has been shown to be beneficial in reducing risk of community-acquired diseases and may also boost the potency of vaccines.
It may be helpful to drink more water after receiving the vaccine, especially if you develop a fever. A 2003 study found that fluid intake could decrease the severity of immune response in people with dengue fever (6).
If you’ve had a fever, increased fluid intake is also recommended for preventing dehydration, although this may be more important in those who have a higher fever or whose side effects last longer (7).
If exercise makes you feel sick, you may want to decrease your exercise intensity. For instance, opt for a walk instead of running.
Side effects or symptoms should resolve within a few days of receiving the vaccine. If they don’t, consult a doctor. And if you notice increased fever, fatigue, or breathing difficulties when exercising, hold off on exercise and consult a medical professional (1).
The CDC also recommends using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and antihistamines to help manage vaccine side effects (1).
However, this recommendation applies only if these medications won’t aggravate any other medical conditions you have (1).
Increasing fluid intake and using anti-inflammatory medications after vaccination may help you manage side effects such as fever and allow you to get back to exercise more quickly.
The bottom line
No research has suggested increased health risks associated with exercising after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Exercise is recommended to help manage pain at the injection site.
It may also be a good idea to drink more water and take anti-inflammatory medication to reduce your risk of side effects.
Exercise may be difficult if you have more severe side effects. If you have symptoms of an allergic reaction to the vaccine, such as hives, swelling or trouble breathing, contact a doctor and hold off on exercise. If the reaction is severe, seek medical attention right away.
If you feel up to exercising after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, it shouldn’t cause any issues. Exercise may even be helpful in reducing the risk of infectious disease and improving the potency of vaccines. If you feel well enough to move, then do it!