Exercise and the Regulation of Immune Functions

Richard J. Simpson, Hawley Kunz, Nadia Agha, Rachel Graff

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

332 Scopus citations


Exercise has a profound effect on the normal functioning of the immune system. It is generally accepted that prolonged periods of intensive exercise training can depress immunity, while regular moderate intensity exercise is beneficial. Single bouts of exercise evoke a striking leukocytosis and a redistribution of effector cells between the blood compartment and the lymphoid and peripheral tissues, a response that is mediated by increased hemodynamics and the release of catecholamines and glucocorticoids following the activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Single bouts of prolonged exercise may impair T-cell, NK-cell, and neutrophil function, alter the Type I and Type II cytokine balance, and blunt immune responses to primary and recall antigens in vivo. Elite athletes frequently report symptoms associated with upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) during periods of heavy training and competition that may be due to alterations in mucosal immunity, particularly reductions in secretory immunoglobulin A. In contrast, single bouts of moderate intensity exercise are "immuno-enhancing" and have been used to effectively increase vaccine responses in "at-risk" patients. Improvements in immunity due to regular exercise of moderate intensity may be due to reductions in inflammation, maintenance of thymic mass, alterations in the composition of "older" and "younger" immune cells, enhanced immunosurveillance, and/or the amelioration of psychological stress. Indeed, exercise is a powerful behavioral intervention that has the potential to improve immune and health outcomes in the elderly, the obese, and patients living with cancer and chronic viral infections such as HIV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMolecular and Cellular Regulation of Adaptation to Exercise, 2015
EditorsClaude Bouchard
PublisherElsevier B.V.
Number of pages26
ISBN (Print)9780128039915
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameProgress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science
ISSN (Print)1877-1173
ISSN (Electronic)1878-0814


  • Acute exercise
  • Athletes
  • Chronic exercise
  • Cytokines
  • Immunosenescence
  • Infection history
  • Leukocyte redistribution
  • Mucosal immunity
  • Nutritional status
  • Stress response
  • Vaccine response
  • Viral reactivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Exercise and the Regulation of Immune Functions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this