Regular physical activity vigorous enough to produce sweat may help older people get more bang from their flu shots.

Researchers at Iowa State University found that a group of people 65 and older who exercised three times a week for 20 minutes at high intensity developed stronger immune responses after receiving the influenza vaccine than those who didn't work as hard at working out. When the flu vaccine is introduced into the body, the immune system produces antibodies to fight off the virus. If it does so halfheartedly, the person receiving the vaccine is not fully protected. Marian Kohut, who led the study, explains that as people age, their immune response tends to diminish, making the vaccine less effective.

Kohut says her study also found that participants with low perceived stress levels produced more antibodies. She added that her work and related studies have found that good nutrition also may play a role in boosting the immune response. Together, she says, this information suggests that improving lifestyle factors can help older people ward off the flu -- which can lead to hospitalization and even death.

Though there have been shortages of flu vaccine in recent years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expects the 94 million doses that will be available this year to be sufficient to meet demand. The CDC urges seniors to take their place at the front of the line for vaccinations, with others who are at lower risk of flu-related complications taking their shots later in the season, which begins about now and continues.

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