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Exercise immunology is a relatively new discipline in the exercise sciences that seeks to understand how exercise affects the immune system and susceptibility to infectious and chronic diseases. This brief review will focus on three major observations that have driven the field to date including: (1) acute exercise-induced leukocytosis, (2) the observation that intense, prolonged exercise results in upper respiratory tract symptoms, and (3) the paradoxical effect of acute and chronic exercise on inflammation. This framework will be used to examine the mechanisms and implications behind these seminal observations. Data generally support the conclusion that moderate intensity exercise enhances immune function, whereas prolonged, intense exercise diminishes immune function.
Woods and Pence are with the Departments of Kinesiology and Community Health, Integrated Immunology and Behavior Program, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL.