Exercise and the aging immune system

Richard J. Simpson, Thomas W. Lowder, Guillaume Spielmann, Austin B. Bigley, Emily C. LaVoy, Hawley Kunz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

193 Scopus citations


Aging is associated with a decline in the normal functioning of the immune system that is described by the canopy term " immunosenescence" . This contributes to poorer vaccine responses and the increased incidence of infection and malignancy seen in the elderly. Regular exercise has been associated with enhanced vaccination responses, lower numbers of exhausted/senescent T-cells, increased T-cell proliferative capacity, lower circulatory levels of inflammatory cytokines (" inflamm-aging" ), increased neutrophil phagocytic activity, lowered inflammatory response to bacterial challenge, greater NK-cell cytotoxic activity and longer leukocyte telomere lengths in aging humans, all of which indicate that habitual exercise is capable of regulating the immune system and delaying the onset of immunosenescence. This contention is supported by the majority of animal studies that report improved immune responses and outcomes to viral infections and malignancies due to exercise training. However, whether or not exercise can reverse, as well as prevent, immunosenescence is a contentious issue, particularly because most longitudinal exercise training studies do not report the same positive effects of exercise on immunity that have been widely reported in studies with a cross-sectional design. In this review, we summarize some of the known effects of exercise on immunosenescence, discuss avenues for future research, and provide potential mechanisms by which exercise may help rejuvinate the aging immune system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)404-420
Number of pages17
JournalAgeing Research Reviews
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Elderly
  • Immune risk profile
  • Immunosenescence
  • Inflammaging
  • Physical activity
  • Viral infection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Aging
  • Molecular Biology
  • Neurology


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