Immune function and the exercising female

Allgrove, Judith and Davison, Glen (2019) Immune function and the exercising female. In: Forsyth, Jacky and Roberts, Claire-Marie, (eds.) The exercising female : science and its applications. Abingdon, U.K. : Routledge. (Routledge Research in Sport and Exercise Science) ISBN 9781351200271


The relationship of exercise and infection risk has been modelled as a J-shaped curve, where moderate exercise may reduce infection risk and heavy exercise may increase infection risk. Exercise can modulate the immune system, which appears to be mediated largely by stress hormones and some cytokines. Females’ exhibit marked differences in immune function compared with males, attributed largely to oestrogen, which can reduce their susceptibility to certain infections, but may also increase their risk of autoimmune diseases. Research regarding the immune response to exercise in females is limited, but differences between sexes and over the menstrual cycle have been demonstrated, although the clinical relevance of these in terms of infection risk is unclear. Several practical recommendations exist to minimise infection risk with exercise, with the most effective being minimising exposure to pathogens. In this chapter, the relationship between exercise, immune function, and infection risk with regards to the exercising female is examined.

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