Can exercise training improve immune function in the aged?

Jeffrey A. Woods, Thomas W. Lowder, K. Todd Keylock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many strategies have been used to improve immune function in the aged. Unfortunately, many of these interventions have been disappointing, impractical, costly to develop and administer, or accompanied by adverse side effects. Aside from dietary manipulation (caloric restriction without malnutrition or antioxidant supplementation), research involving behavioral preventative or restorative therapies has been lacking. Moderate exercise training has been shown to elicit beneficial outcomes in both the prevention and rehabilitation of many diseases of the elderly. It has been hypothesized that moderate levels of exercise improves, whereas strenuous exercise or overtraining suppresses, various immune function measures. Three general approaches have been implemented to study the impact of exercise on immune functioning in the elderly: (1) cross-sectional studies, (2) longitudinal studies, and (3) animal studies. In general, cross-sectional studies examining highly active elderly have demonstrated improved in vitro T cell responses to polyclonal stimulation when compared to sedentary elderly. This is corroborated by several animal studies that have shown improved splenic T cell responses in vitro. Unfortunately, human prospective studies have failed to demonstrate consistent improvements in various measures of immune function in older adults. However, it should be cautioned that these studies have included small samples followed over a short duration, measuring a limited number of in vitro immune parameters, with some failing to account for potential confounding influences. Although such findings have the potential to be of substantial public health importance, very few systematic studies have been conducted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-127
Number of pages11
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
StatePublished - 2002


  • Aging
  • Elderly
  • Exercise
  • Immune function
  • Physical activity
  • Training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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