Preventing or Reversing Immunosenescence

Can Exercise Be an Immunotherapy?

Adriana L de Araújo; Léia CR Silva; Juliana Ruiz Fernandes; Gil Benard


Immunotherapy. 2013;5(8):879-893. 

In This Article

Conclusion & Future Perspective

There is now a strong body of evidence showing that aging is accompanied by severe alterations in the immune system, a process known as immunosenescence. Among these changes are alterations in T-cell subpopulation size, cytokine secretion pattern, cell replicative capacity and antibody production, all of which culminate in a proinflammatory state called inflammaging and diminished capacity to respond to new antigens. These alterations are closely related to the increased mortality and morbidity rates observed in this population. However, the role of exercise on the prevention or treatment of immunosenescence is virtually unknown.

In fact, physical activity may act as a stress agent on the human body, leading to adaptations at the tissue, cellular, molecular and systemic levels. Several studies show that physical activity can be an important factor for either preventing or treating cardiac and neurological diseases and diabetes.[133–135] With regard to the immune system, it has been reported that there is an increase in the recruitment of NK cells to peripheral blood during physical activity,[136,137] which rapidly decreases after the cessation of activity.[138] Neutrophils are also increased during exercise, and the number remains elevated for several hours after activity cessation. In the adaptive immune system, the number of lymphocytes in circulation increases during exercise, then decreases to levels below those prior to exercise.[139] Other studies have shown that marathoners present with more airway infections 3–72 h after competition or even 2 weeks after competition.[97,98]

Data gathered from the literature regarding the effects of physical activity on immune system aging are still limited and conflicting, with the existing reports either advocating benefits or asserting a lack of evidence. It is likely that the conflicting data may reflect the heterogeneity of study protocols, with different types, intensities and program lengths, and the distinct immunological parameters assayed. In addition, genetic and environmental factors can overcome the effect of exercise training on physical fitness. Exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle has already been shown to provide long-term benefits with regard to cardiovascular, cognitive, psychosocial and other aspects of the elderly. If positive effects are also observed for immunosenescence, exercise could be a highly cost-effective measure to improve human quality of life compared with the other strategies currently being pursued.