The effect on immunity of long-term intensive training in elite swimmers

Clin Exp Immunol. 1995 Oct;102(1):210-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.1995.tb06658.x.


The impact of long-term training on systemic and mucosal immunity was assessed prospectively in a cohort of elite swimmers over a 7-month training season in preparation for national championships. The results indicated significant suppression (P < 0.05) of serum IgA, IgG and IgM and salivary IgA concentration in athletes associated with long-term training at an intensive level. There was also a trend towards lower IgG2 subclass levels in serum in athletes compared with controls (P = 0.07). There were no significant changes in numbers or percentages of B or T cell subsets, but there was a significant fall in natural killer (NK) cell numbers and percentages in athletes over the training season (P < 0.05). After individual training sessions there was a significant decrease in salivary IgA levels for athletes compared with controls (P = 0.002). In athletes there was a downward trend in salivary IgA levels over the 7-month training period in both the pre-exercise (P = 0.06) and post-exercise samples (P = 0.04). There were no significant trends in salivary IgG levels over the study period in either athletes or controls. The only significant change in salivary IgM levels was an increase in detection rate in the pre-competition phase in athletes (P = 0.03). The study suggests that training of elite athletes at an intensive level over both short- and long-time frames suppresses both systemic and mucosal immunity. Protracted immune suppression linked with prolonged training may determine susceptibility to infection, particularly at times of major competitions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Immunity*
  • Immunoglobulins / analysis
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • Male
  • Physical Education and Training*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Saliva / immunology
  • Serum Albumin / analysis
  • Swimming*


  • Immunoglobulins
  • Serum Albumin