It’s flu season, and we hope you’ve gotten your flu vaccination this year (it’s a myth that flu shots give you the flu?they can’t. But it sometimes seems that way when people have already been exposed to the flu virus by the time they get their injection). Scientists have found a way to enhance the flu vaccine’s immune response, so it will work better.

A new study has found that a brief session of muscle-building exercise, such as weight lifting, before receiving a flu shot can enhance a person’s immune response. The immune system’s reaction differs markedly between men and women, however, and exactly how exercise influences the process remains unclear.

Researcher Kate Edwards says, “We’re trying to find something that could be very simple to do, which would benefit your vaccine response.” These findings help confirm an earlier study by Edwards’ team, which showed for the first time that the acute stress of exercise can increase antibody production in humans. When a person lowers a heavy weight, this causes a local inflammatory response that includes the arrival of key immune cells.

Researcher Anna Marsland wants to know, “Is somebody better able to protect themselves from flu if they have slightly higher antibody levels?” For now, she says there’s no evidence one way or the other.

Nevertheless, said Edwards, “If you manage to fit in doing some exercises before you get your flu shot, that certainly could benefit you in many ways and might well benefit your vaccination response.”

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