In adults, exercise is a powerful and natural stimulator of immune cells and adhesion molecules. Far less is known about these exercise responses during childhood and whether or not exercise in real-life activities of healthy children might influence immune responses. We compared laboratory exercise (10 x 2 min periods of heavy, constant intensity, cycle ergcometer exercise with 1 min rests between exercise in nine subjects, aged 9-15 years) with field exercise (90 min soccer practice in nine different subjects, aged 9-11 years). Blood was sampled before both protocols, 5 min after the 30 min laboratory protocol, and 10-15 min after the 90 min field protocol. Both field and laboratory exercise protocols led to significant (P<0.05) increases in granulocytes, monocytes, and all lymphocyte subpopulations. The mean (SEM) increases were similar for the two protocols except for the significantly greater increase in laboratory compared with field protocols for natural killer cells [142 (39)% vs 12 (16)%, P<0.001] and monocytes [64 (22)% vs 32 (19)%, P<0.001] Both protocols significantly influenced adhesion molecules (such as CD54) which have not been previously studied in children. However, the adhesion molecule CD8+ CD62L increased to a significantly (P < 0.001) greater extent in the laboratory [101 (25)%] versus field [34 (25)%] protocol. Finally, the density of CD632L on lymphocytes significantly decreased with laboratory exercise but showed no change in the field protocol [-20 (3)% vs -3 (3)%, P<0.001]. The rapid and substantial immune response in both laboratory and field protocols suggests that exercise stimulation of the immune system occurs commonly in the real lives of children and may play a role in their overall immune status.