It is widely accepted that aging is accompanied by remodelling of the immune system including thymic atrophy and increased frequency of senescent T cells, leading to immune compromise. However, physical activity, which influences immunity but declines dramatically with age, is not considered in this literature. We assessed immune profiles in 125 adults (55-79 years) who had maintained a high level of physical activity (cycling) for much of their adult lives, 75 age-matched older adults and 55 young adults not involved in regular exercise. The frequency of naïve T cells and recent thymic emigrants (RTE) were both higher in cyclists compared with inactive elders, and RTE frequency in cyclists was no different to young adults. Compared with their less active counterparts, the cyclists had significantly higher serum levels of the thymoprotective cytokine IL-7 and lower IL-6, which promotes thymic atrophy. Cyclists also showed additional evidence of reduced immunesenescence, namely lower Th17 polarization and higher B regulatory cell frequency than inactive elders. Physical activity did not protect against all aspects of immunesenescence: CD28-ve CD57+ve senescent CD8 T-cell frequency did not differ between cyclists and inactive elders. We conclude that many features of immunesenescence may be driven by reduced physical activity with age.
Keywords: immunesenescence; inflammation; interleukin-7; physical activity; thymic output.
© 2018 The Authors. Aging Cell published by the Anatomical Society and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.