Aging Immunity and the Impact of Physical Exercise

  • Austin B. BigleyEmail author
  • Forrest L. Baker
  • Guillaume Spielmann
  • R. J. Simpson
Living reference work entry


The etiology of immunosenescence is complex and can impact on both arms of the immune system resulting in poor vaccine responses and increased rates of infection and malignancy in the elderly. Regular physical exercise has been associated with increased immunity and may serve as a simple lifestyle intervention to counteract the deleterious effects of immunosenescence. Some of the positive effects of exercise for older adults include increased responsiveness to vaccines, greater NK-cell function, reduced proportions of exhausted/senescent T cells in the periphery, lower frequency of pro-inflammatory monocytes, enhanced function and number of anti-inflammatory Tregs, and longer leukocyte telomere lengths. Collectively, these findings indicate that habitual exercise has immunoregulatory properties and may delay the onset of immunosenescence; however, it remains to be seen if exercise training can also prevent those impaired immune responses that have been associated with immunosenescence. This is because most longitudinal exercise training studies have failed to document the positive effects of exercise on immunity that have been consistently reported in cross-sectional studies. Multiple problems beset existing randomized controlled trials including vast differences in methodology and reliance on otherwise healthy, untrained people as subjects; however, training intervention studies in “unhealthy” people such as cancer survivors, obese individuals, and HIV-positive patients mostly report positive effects of exercise on immunity. Thus, exercise may contribute to the reversal of immunosenescence in those individuals considered to be “at risk.”


Immunosenescence Inflammation NK cells T cells Monocytes Aerobic exercise Resistance training Vaccines Cancer Infection 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Austin B. Bigley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Forrest L. Baker
    • 2
  • Guillaume Spielmann
    • 3
  • R. J. Simpson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Nutritional SciencesUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Health and Human PerformanceUniversity of HoustonHoustonUSA
  3. 3.School of Kinesiology College of Human Sciences & EducationLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Tamas Fulop
    • 1
  1. 1.Research Center on Aging, Department of Medicine, Immunology Graduate Programme, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of SherbrookeSherbrookeCanada

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