15 May 2023

Short bouts of light or moderate exercise can increase the number of immune cells in the bloodstream of lymphoma patients, according to a new Finnish study.

Previous pre-clinical studies have found exercise affects the functioning of the immune system, resulting in immune cells migrating to the tumour site, and becoming more active in destroying cancer cells. However, the extent to which this happens in human cancer patients is not clear, the researchers say. 

A team at the University of Turku in Finland undertook two small studies – one in lymphoma patients, the other in breast cancer patients – to establish if a short amount of exercise affects the mobilisation of immune cells in the blood.

The two studies involved 27 recently-diagnosed cancer patients – 7 lymphoma and 20 breast cancer patients – who were aged between 20 and 69, and 37 and 73, respectively. During the study, the patients did a 10-minute exercise on bicycle, with blood samples being taken once before starting and twice after they had finished.

Research assistant Tiia Koivula said the pedalling resistance was determined individually for each patient so that it corresponded to light or moderate physical activity. The most important goal was that the patients were able to pedal for 10 minutes straight without exhaustion, but so that their heart rate increased.

The team analysed the number of several different immune cells from the blood samples and compared the numbers in samples before exercise, immediately after the exercise, and 30 minutes later.

During the exercise, cytotoxic CD8+ T cells and natural killer cells increased in the bloodstream of lymphoma patients. In breast cancer patients, exercise also increased the total number of white blood cells, as well as the number of intermediate monocytes and B cells.

The numbers of white cells returned to baseline levels within 30 minutes after exercise.

“It is especially interesting that we saw an increase in cytotoxic immune cells during the exercise in both patient groups. These immune cells are capable of destroying cancer cells,” said Koivula.

The researchers also found that the more the patients’ heart rate and blood pressure increased over the 10-minute exercise period, the more immune cells were transferred into the bloodstream.

“Cancer treatments can make you tired and lower your motivation for exercise, which is why it is comforting to know that just 10 minutes of cycling or walking to a supermarket, for example, can be enough to boost the body’s immune system,” she added.

Further research is needed to study if the immune cells migrate to the tumour after exercise, the researchers say.



Koivula T, Lempiäinen S, Rinne P, Hollmén M, Sundberg CJ, Rundqvist H, Minn H, Heinonen I.  (2023) “Acute exercise mobilizes CD8+ cytotoxic T cells and NK cells in lymphoma patients.” Front Physiol, doi: 10.3389/fphys.2022.1078512

Link:  https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2022.1078512/full

Disclaimer: The news stories shared on this site are used as a way to inform our members and followers of updates and relevant information happening in Haematology. The BSH does not endorse the content of news items from external sources, and is not in a position to verify the findings, accuracy or the source of any studies mentioned. Any medical or drugs information is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

News service provided by Englemed News.