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Exerc Immunol Rev. 2011;17:64-103.

Position statement. Part two: Maintaining immune health.

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  • 1School of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences, Bangor University, UK.


The physical training undertaken by athletes is one of a set of lifestyle or behavioural factors that can influence immune function, health and ultimately exercise performance. Others factors including potential exposure to pathogens, health status, lifestyle behaviours, sleep and recovery, nutrition and psychosocial issues, need to be considered alongside the physical demands of an athlete's training programme. The general consensus on managing training to maintain immune health is to start with a programme of low to moderate volume and intensity; employ a gradual and periodised increase in training volumes and loads; add variety to limit training monotony and stress; avoid excessively heavy training loads that could lead to exhaustion, illness or injury; include non-specific cross-training to offset staleness; ensure sufficient rest and recovery; and instigate a testing programme for identifying signs of performance deterioration and manifestations of physical stress. Inter-individual variability in immunocompetence, recovery, exercise capacity, non-training stress factors, and stress tolerance likely explains the different vulnerability of athletes to illness. Most athletes should be able to train with high loads provided their programme includes strategies devised to control the overall strain and stress. Athletes, coaches and medical personnel should be alert to periods of increased risk of illness (e.g. intensive training weeks, the taper period prior to competition, and during competition) and pay particular attention to recovery and nutritional strategies.

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