Send to

Choose Destination
Can J Sport Sci. 1991 Sep;16(3):169-85.

Physical activity and the immune system.

Author information

School of Physical & Health Education, University of Toronto, Ontario.


Methods of examining immune function include a charting of susceptibility to infections, differential blood counts or lymphocyte counts, and measures of cell proliferation and immunoglobulin synthesis in response to external mitogens. The reported acute response to exercise is transient and quite variable, depending upon the type of exercise, the immunological methodology used, the intensity of effort relative to the fitness of the individual, and the timing of observation. A leucocytosis, a granulocytosis, a small lymphocytosis, and a decrease in the proportion of T to B cells reflect mainly changes of blood volume, demargination, and migration of cells. Lymphocyte subsets show a decreased helper/suppressor cell ratio and an increase of natural killer cells. Because of the lymphocytosis, mitogens induce an increased overall cell proliferation, but proliferation for a given number of cells is decreased. Prolonged exercise leads to a decrease of serum and salivary immunoglobulin levels. Soluble factors such as interleukin-1 and interferon are increased by a bout of exercise. Cross-sectional comparisons and training experiments suggest that under resting conditions well-conditioned individuals show some lymphocytosis, increased natural killer cell activity, higher levels of interleukin-1, and possibly an enhanced reaction to mitogens. Moderate training does not greatly change exercise responses at a given fraction of maximal effort. Excessive training suppresses immune function, but the changes are small, variable, and thus difficult to relate to overtraining. Moreover, because of their transient nature, they have only a limited influence upon the risks of infection or cancer.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Loading ...
Support Center