This study examined the effects of acute continuous incremental exercise on lymphocyte mitogenic function and cytokine production in physically active and sedentary males and females. Physically active (n = 32) and sedentary (N = 32) male and female subjects were randomly assigned to an exercise or control condition. Exercise involved a continuous incremental protocol consisting of cycling for 3 periods of 6 min at workrates corresponding to 55%, 70% and 85% VO2peak. Blood samples were drawn from a venous catheter at baseline, 6 min, 12 min and 18 min, and 2 h following completion of exercise. Relative to baseline and control condition the percentage of T (CD3+) and B cells (CD19+) significantly decreased, and the percentage of NK cells (CD3-CD16+CD56+) increased (p < 0.001) during each stage of the incremental exercise test. The proliferative response to ConA was suppressed, enhanced, or unchanged using 1.25 micrograms/ml, 2.5 micrograms/ml and 5.0 micrograms/ml ConA, respectively. The in-vitro production of IL-1 and IFN-gamma increased during each workload. In contrast IL-4 production did not change during exercise. The resting and exercise induced alterations in lymphocyte function and cytokine production were independent of gender and fitness level, and returned to baseline 2 h into recovery. The in-vitro production of IFN-gamma and IL-4 suggests that physical activity may alter the balance of TH1 and TH2 lymphocytes.