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Exercise may help prevent infection for paraplegic individuals

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medwireNews: Results from a pilot study suggest that a moderate amount of exercise may result in enhanced immunity in paraplegic athletes.

As individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) are known to be susceptible to recurrent infections, such as those of the respiratory tract, skin, and urinary tract, regular exercise may help minimize infection risks in this group of people, suggest the researchers.

Writing in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, Judith Allgrove (University of Greenwich, Kent, UK) and colleagues carried out a pilot study involving nine male paraplegic (spinal injury level thoracic 4, lumbar 2) athletes to assess the biochemical and physiologic effects on the immune system of 1 hour of handcycling exercise on a 400 m athletics track.

Immediately following a mean of 22.4 km handcycling at a mean heart rate of 165 beats/min, rating of perceived exertion of 15, and blood lactate of 7.9 mmol/L, the athletes had a 72% increase in the number of leukocytes, a 74% increase in the number of neutrophils, a 53% increase in lymphocytes, and a 175% increase in natural killer cells in their blood.

Leukocytes and neutrophils remained at significantly higher levels than normal at 1-hour post exercise, but levels of lymphocytes and natural killer cells had returned to normal levels.

No effects of exercise on saliva flow, salivary immunoglobulin A, or cortisol were seen, however.

The researchers emphasize that their findings are only preliminary and may not be representative of paraplegic individuals in general due to the high level of fitness of the participants, but say that the results suggest that “exercise may confer some resistance to infection, in addition to the other well-known health benefits” in paraplegic individuals.

The findings add to those of previous research in nondisabled people showing that moderate, but not extreme, exercise may confer immunologic benefits.

“Given the increased incidence of infections in the SCI population, future research should assess how regular physical activity, as well as the level and completeness of the SCI, affect immunity and the incidence of infection,” conclude Allgrove and team.

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter

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