Background: Immunosenescence is related to the deterioration of many immune functions, which may be manifested in increased susceptibility to infection, cancer, and autoimmunity. Lifestyle factors, such as diet or physical activity, may influence the senescence of the immune system. It is widely accepted that moderate physical activity may cause beneficial effects for physical and psychological health as well as for the immune system activity in aged people.
Methods: Thirty elderly women aged 62 to 86 were subjected to a two-years authorized physical activity program. Peripheral blood lymphocytes distribution and the production of cytokines involved in the immune response development and regulation (IL-2, IL-4 and IFN-gamma) were investigated. The same parameters were evaluated in two control groups of women: a sedentary group of 12 elderly women selected for the second round of the physical activity program and in a group of 20 sedentary young women. Flow cytometry methods were used for the examination of surface markers on peripheral blood lymphocytes and intracellular cytokines expression.
Results: The distribution of the main lymphocytes subpopulations in the peripheral blood of elderly women did not show changes after long-term moderate physical training. The percentage of lymphocytes expressing intracellular IL-2 was higher in the group of women attending 2-years physical activity program than in the control group of elderly sedentary women, and it was similar to the value estimated in the group of young sedentary women. There was no difference in the intracellular expression of IL-4 and IFN-gamma between the active and elderly sedentary women.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that moderate, long-term physical activity in elderly women may increase the production of IL-2, an important regulator of the immune response. This may help ameliorate immunosenescence in these women.