Effects of exercise intensity on circulating leukocyte subpopulations

Original Article



The purpose of this study was to examine the relation between exercise intensity and immune function.


Ten healthy young males underwent a constant work rate exercise of three levels, 90%, 80% and 70% ventilatory threshold (VT) work rate, for 20 min on a bicycle ergometer. These work rates were calculated for each individual based on his VT work rate obtained by the incremental exercise tests. Blood samples were collected before and after the exercise, and immune function indices were measured.


Compared with the obtained\(\dot VO_2 \) at\(VT \left( {VT\dot VO_2 } \right)\) in the incremental test, the\(\dot VO_2 \) with the exercise of 70% VT work rate was at a similar level and the one with the exercise of 90% or 80% VT work rate had a significantly greater value. The numbers of leukocytes and neutrophils significantly increased in the 90% and 70% VT work rate groups. In 80% VT work rate group, the CD4/CD8 ratio was significantly depressed. The CD16+CD57 (%), natural killer cell populations, had a tendency to increase at 80% VT work rate, and also the CD16+CD57 (%) had a similar tendency at 90% or 80% VT work rate.


This study shows that moderate exercise reaching or exceeding the VT level acutely affects T cell and NK cell subsets.

Key words

lymphocyte exercise stress acute effect ventilatory threshold exercise intensity 


  1. (1).
    Brahmi Z, Thomas JE, Park M, Park M, Dowdeswell IRG. The effect of acute exercise on natural killer-cell activity of trained and sedentary human subjects. J. Clin. Immunol. 1985; 5: 321–328.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. (2).
    Kendall A, Hoffman-Goetz L, Houston M, Macneil B, Arumugam Y. Exercise and blood lymphocyte subset responses: intensity, duration, and subject fitness effects. J. Appl. Physiol. 1990; 69: 251–260.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. (3).
    Masuhara M, Kami K, Umebayasi K, Tatsumi N. Influences of exercise on leukocyte count and size. J. Sports Med. 1987; 27: 285–290.Google Scholar
  4. (4).
    Nieman DC, Henson DA, Sampson CS, Herring JL, Suttles J, Conley M, Stone MH, Butterworth DE, Davis JM. The acute immune response to exhaustive resistance exercise. Int. J. Sports Med. 1995; 16: 322–328.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. (5).
    Pedersen BK. Influence of physical activity on the cellular immune system: Mechanisms of action. Int. J. Sports Med. 1991; 112 (suppl. 1): S23-S29.Google Scholar
  6. (6).
    Pedersen BK, Toft AD. Effects of exercise on lymphocytes and cytokines. Br. J. Sports Med. 2000; 34: 246–251.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. (7).
    Gabriel H, Kindermann W. The acute immune response to exercise: what does it mean? Int. J. Sports Med. 1997; 18 (suppl. 1): S28-S45.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. (8).
    Shephard RJ, Shek PN. Exercise, aging and immune function. Int. J. Sport Med. 1995; 16: 1–6.Google Scholar
  9. (9).
    Hoffman-Goetz L, Pedersen BK. Exercise and the immune system: a model of the stress response? Immunol. Today 1994; 15: 382–387.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. (10).
    Wasserman K, Mcilroy MB. Detecting the threshold of anaerobic metabolism in cardiac patients during exercise. Am. J. Cardiol. 1964; 14: 844–852.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. (11).
    Beaver WL, Wasserman K, Whipp BJ. A new method for detecting anaerobic threshold gas exchange. J. Appl. Physiol. 1986; 60: 2020–2027.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. (12).
    Casaburi R, Patessio A, Ioli F, Zanaboni S, Donner CF, Wasserman K. Reductions in exercise lactic acidosis and ventilation as a result of exercise training in patients with obstructive lung disease. Am. Rev. Respir. Dis. 1991; 143: 9–18.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. (13).
    Hansen JE, Sue DY, Wasserman K. Predicted values for clinical exercise testing. Am. Rev. Resper. Dis. 1984; 129 (suppl): 49s-55s.Google Scholar
  14. (14).
    Casaburi R. Principles of exercise training. Chest 1992; 101: 263s-267s.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. (15).
    Kusaka Y, Sato K, Zhang Q, Morita A, Kasahara T, Yanagihara T. Association of natural killer cell activity with serum IgE. Int. Arch. Allergy Immunol. 1997; 112: 331–335.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. (16).
    Birger WP, Weiss M, Michel G, Weicker H. Exercise-induced monocytosis and modulation of monocyte function. Int. J. Sports Med. 1980; 1: 30–36.Google Scholar
  17. (17).
    Foster NK, Martyn JB, Rangno RE, Hogg JC, Pardy RL. Leukocytosis of exercise: role of cardiac output and catecholamines. J. Appl. Physiol. 1986; 61: 2218–2223.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. (18).
    Hedfors E, Holm G, Ohnell B. Variations of blood lymphocytes during work studied by cell surface markers, DNA synthesis and cytotoxicity. Clin. Exp. Immunol. 1976; 24: 328–335.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. (19).
    McCarthy DA, Dale MM. The leucocytosis of exercise. Sports Med. 1988; 6: 333–363.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. (20).
    Sinkai S, Watanabe S, Asai H, Shek PN. Cortisol response to exercise and post-exercise suppression of blood lymphocyte subset counts. Int. J. Sports. Med. 1996; 17: 597–603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. (21).
    Hedfors E, Holm G, Ivansen M, Wahren J. Physiological variation of blood lymphocyte reactivity: T-cell subsets, immunoglobulin production, and mixed-lymphocyte reactivity. Clin. Immunol. Immunopathol. 1983; 27: 9–14.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. (22).
    Tvede N, Kappel M, Halkjæer-Kristensen J, Galbo H, Pedersen BK. The effect of light, moderate and severe bicycle exercise on lymphocyte subsets, natural and lymphokine activated killer cells, lymphocyte proliferative response and interleukin 2 production. Int. J. Sports Med. 1993; 14: 275–282.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. (23).
    Pedersen BK, Ullum H. NK cell response to physical activity: possible mechanisms of action. Med. Sci. Sports Exercise 1994; 26: 140–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. (24).
    Castell LM, Poortmans JR, Leclercq R, Brasseur MB, Duchateau J, Newsholme EA. Some aspects of the acute phase response after a marathon race, and the effects glutamine supplementation Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 1997; 75: 47–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. (25).
    Mackinnon LT. Chronic exercise training effects on immune function. Med. Sci. Sports Exercise 2000; 32: 369–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. (26).
    Nehlsen-Cannarella SL, Nieman DC, Balk-Lamberton AJ, Markoff PA, Chritton DBW, Gusewitch G, Lee JW. The effects of moderate exercise training on immune response. Med. Sci. Sports Exercise 1991; 23: 64–70.Google Scholar
  27. (27).
    Nieman DC, Henson DA, Gusewitch G, Warren BJ, Dotson RC, Butterworth DE, Nehlsen-Cannarella SL. Physical activity and immune function in elderly woman. Med. Sci. Sports Exercise 1993; 25: 823–831.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. (28).
    Nieman DC, Nehlsen-Cannarella SL, Markoff PA, Balk-Lamberton AJ, Yang H, Chritton DBW, Lee JW, Arabatzis K. The effects of moderate exercise training on natural killer cells and acute upper respiratory tract infections. Int. J. Sports Med. 1990; 11: 467–473.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. (29).
    Wolach B, Eliakim A, Gavrieli R, Kodesh E, Yarom Y, Schlesinger M, Falk B. Aspects of leukocyte function and the complement system following aerobic exercise in young female gymnasts. Scand. J. Med. Sci. Sports 1998; 8: 91–97.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. (30).
    Woods JA, Ceddia MA, Wolters BW, Evans JK, Lu Q. Effects of 6 months of moderate aerobic exercise training on immune function in the elderly. Mech. Ageing Dev. 1999; 109: 1–19.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. (31).
    Rhind SG, Shek PN, Shinkai S, Shephard RJ. Effects of moderate endurance exercise and training on in vitro lymphocyte proliferation, interleukin-2 (IL-2) production, and IL-2 receptor expression. Eur. Appl. J. Physiol. 1996; 74: 348–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. (32).
    Nieman DC, Nehlsen-Cannarella SL, Henson DA, Koch AJ, Butterworth DE, Fagoaga OR, Utter A. Immune response to exercise training and/or energy restriction in obese woman. Med. Sci. Sports Exercise 1998; 30: 679–686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Japanese Society of Hygiene 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yukie Saito
    • 1
  • Yukinori Kusaka
    • 2
  • Masanori Shimada
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Physical TherapyFukui Technical College for MedicineFukui City, FukuiJapan
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Health, School of MedicineFukui Medical UniversityFukui
  3. 3.Department of Internal MedicineOta Municipal HospitalFukui

Personalised recommendations