Exercise immunology: the current state of man and mouse

Sports Med. 2004;34(9):555-66. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200434090-00001.


The mechanisms governing the body's response to physical exercise have been investigated from various perspectives including metabolism, nutrition, age and sex. Increased attention to the immune system during recent decades is reflected by a rapidly growing number of publications in the field. This article highlights the most recent findings and only briefly summarises more basic concepts already reviewed by others. Topics include Th1/Th2 cytokine balance, inoculation time, age and immune compensation. Some less investigated areas are discussed including studies in children, the environment and dendritic cells. Because physical exercise enhances some aspects and suppresses other aspects of immunity, the biological significance of alterations in the immune system are unknown. So far, no link between immunological alterations and infection rate has been established and infection after strenuous physical exercise is equally likely to be the result of exercising with an already established rather than a new infection. If there is an increased risk for infections with increased exercise duration and intensity, why do overtrained athletes not display the greatest risk for upper respiratory tract infections? Increased knowledge on immune system modulations with physical exercise is relevant both from a public health and elite athlete's point of view.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology*
  • Infections / immunology
  • Mice
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Sweden
  • Th1 Cells / immunology
  • Th2 Cells / immunology
  • United States
  • Vaccination