Can You Exercise After Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine? Here’s What Experts Say
You really need to listen to your body on this one.
Picture it: You just got your COVID-19 vaccine—first dose, second dose, or only dose—and you're feeling motivated to keep the whole "being proactive about your health" ball rolling. So you change into your workout clothes to get in some exercise too. But should you really get your sweat on after the jab, or should you sit this one out?
The short answer: Sure, in most cases, it's totally OK to work out after your shot—as long as you're feeling well enough. But some of the more common vaccine side effects might impact your exercise plans, so it's best to be aware of those—and how you can plan your physical activity around your vaccine—to feel a good as possible. Here's what you need to know about exercising after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, straight from the experts.
First: What are the common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?
Whether you feel well enough to exercise after your COVID-19 vaccine depends on which side effects, if any, you experience. Common side effects, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) include pain, redness, and swelling on the arm where you got the shot as well as tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea.
These side effects usually start within a day or two of getting the vaccine, the CDC says, and they might impact your ability to do daily activities, including working out. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Those common side effects are ultimately a sign that your immune system is responding to the vaccine, David Wyles, MD, infectious disease specialist and head of infectious disease at Denver Health, tells Health. And luckily, the side effects should disappear in a few days, which means they probably won't be a big disruption to your routine.
Something else to consider, too: Though these common side effects can be annoying and uncomfortable, they are very mild compared to the illness that COVID-19 can cause, Humberto Choi, M.D., pulmonologist at Cleveland Clinic who treats COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit, tells Health.
It's impossible to predict how, exactly, your body will respond to the shot. "Everyone has a different response to the vaccine," Dr. Choi says. But in general, younger folks (think: people under 60 or 55) tend to more frequently experience side effects, Dr. Wyles says. That's likely because their immune systems tend to respond to the vaccine more vigorously than older adults, he explains. You may experience more intense side effects after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines than you did after the first dose, the CDC says. Again, these side effects are a sign your immune system is responding to the vaccine and they should go away in a few days.
What to know about exercising after a COVID-19 vaccine
First things first: "I don't think there's anything dangerous about exercising after you get the vaccine," Dr. Wyles says—even if you have some of the more uncomfortable side effects like muscle aches or a mild fever. The only risk of exercising after a COVID-19 vaccine is that some of the side effects may reduce the quality of your workout and make it less enjoyable overall. There is no evidence, adds Dr. Choi, that exercising right before or right after the vaccine would impact the effectiveness of the vaccine.
As a rule of thumb, Dr. Wyles recommends listening to your body. If, post-vaccination, you don't feel well enough to exercise, take a rest day. Missing your favorite Peloton class might suck, but forcing yourself to break a sweat when you're not feeling good is "counterproductive," Sivan Fagan, CPT, strength coach, and owner of Strong with Sivan, tells Health. "You're not going to be able to perform your best," she explains.
Depending on the type and intensity of your side effects, you may choose to do a gentler version of your standard workout. For instance, if your arm is achy but the rest of your body feels fine, you may modify your full-body strength workout to be just a leg and core-focused routine. Or if you're feeling a little lethargic, but still want to get some movement in, you might go on a long walk in lieu of your typical HIIT workout.
You may be able to lessen the intensity of vaccine side effects by taking ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, or antihistamines, says the CDC. (Just talk to your doctor first and make sure they recommend this for you.) If taking one of these medications makes you feel better and up for a workout, then by all means, exercise, says Dr. Wyles. Also, if your side effects feel manageable without medication—or if you don't have any side effects—then you should definitely feel free to work out as usual. "There's no stopping you from exercising after getting the vaccine if you can tolerate the side effects," Aditya Shah, MD, infectious disease specialist and hospitalist at the Mayo Clinic, tells Health.
If, on the other hand, you experience debilitating side effects post vaccination—think very high fever or extreme fatigue, muscle pain, or chills—call your doctor or head to the ER, cautions Dr. Shah. You should also contact your doc if the redness or pain where you got the shot worsens after 24 hours, or if your side effects aren't going away after a few days, per the CDC. And if you think you are having a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine (which is very rare, by the way), call 911.
You should also check in with your doctor if you get a high fever after vaccination or if you get a low-grade fever that's accompanied by a cough, runny nose, shortness of breath, or loss of taste or smell, says Dr. Shah. Those are symptoms of COVID-19, and though the vaccine does not infect you with the virus, it's possible that you happened to contract the disease around the time of your vaccination, in which case you would want to pause your workout plans and get tested ASAP.
How to plan workouts around your vaccination
Since there's no way to know exactly how your body will respond to the COVID-19 vaccine, it's best to not make any concrete workout plans—like signing up for a non-refundable class or promising your BFF you'll do Zoom yoga together—on the day of your vaccine as well as one to two days after. "I would play it by ear," Dr. Shah says. That's an especially wise approach after your second vaccination, Dr. Wyles says.
Fagan, for example, is getting her second Moderna shot next week and says she is purposefully planning to not train any clients in the following 48 hours just in case she experiences side effects that put her out of commission.
Also, keep in mind it takes two weeks after your final dose of the vaccine until you are considered "fully vaccinated," caveats Dr. Shah. So if you have workout plans that are predicated on you being fully vaccinated—say, for instance, an indoor, maskless workout with a small group of other fully vaccinated friends, which would be OK per new CDC guidelines—make sure you wait those full two weeks. Dr. Shah also reiterates that even when you are fully vaccinated, it's still important to keep up basic public health precautions like masking, social distancing, and hand hygiene in most settings. "Until the CDC tells you, 'alright, we're past the pandemic,' you should behave as if everybody else is infected," he says.
The bottom line: It's definitely OK to exercise after you get a COVID-19 shot so long as you feel up to it. Just let your body be your guide and scale things back as needed.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
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