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Immunological Changes in Response to Exercise: Influence of Age, Puberty, and Gender


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: February 2006 - Volume 38 - Issue 2 - p 293-304
doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000183479.90501.a0
BASIC SCIENCES: Original Investigations

Purpose: This study tested the hypothesis that exercise-induced perturbation and recovery of the immune system would vary with age, puberty, and gender in healthy children and adolescents.

Methods: Twelve-year-old girls (YG; N = 14) and boys (YB; N = 20), and 14-yr-old girls (OG; N = 11) and boys (OB; N = 13) cycled for 60 min at 70% V̇O2max. Blood was collected before, at 30 and 60 min of exercise, and at 30 and 60 min of recovery to measure total leukocytes, leukocyte and lymphocyte subsets, and cytokines. Age and pubertal (Tanner stage) effects within genders and gender effects within age and pubertal groups were determined.

Results: Exercise-induced increases in lymphocytes, CD3CD16+CD56+ counts, and IL-6 were approximately 83, 90, and 390% greater in OG versus YG (P < 0.05). Recovery leukocytosis and neutrophilia were approximately 56 and 35% greater in OB versus YB (P < 0.05). Pubertal stage did not have a statistically significant influence on responses in girls, but the lowest pubertal stage consistently showed smaller changes in lymphocytes and CD3CD16+CD56+ counts. Recovery neutrophilia was approximately 120% greater in postpubertal boys versus prepubertal or pubertal boys (P < 0.05). Responses of lymphocytes and CD3CD16+CD56+ counts, respectively, were approximately 120 and 82% greater in OG versus OB (P < 0.05), with no differences between YG and YB. Exercise-induced increases in total leukocytes, lymphocytes, and CD3CD16+CD56+ counts were at least 35% greater in girls versus boys of similar pubertal status (P < 0.05). Regardless of age, puberty, or gender, IL-8 levels were significantly higher during recovery versus rest (P < 0.05).

Conclusion: These results highlight the need to control for age, puberty, and gender when interpreting immunologic responses to exercise in a pediatric population.

1Children's Exercise and Nutrition Centre, 2Departments of Pediatrics and Medicine, and 3Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, CANADA

Address for correspondence: Mark A. Tarnopolsky, M.D., Ph.D., FRCP(C), McMaster University Medical Centre, 1200 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, L8N 3Z5; E-mail:

Submitted for publication April 2005.

Accepted for publication August 2005.

©2006The American College of Sports Medicine