While we are familiar with inflammation on the surface of our bodies which involves local redness, heat, swelling, and pain. Another kind of inflammation that is in our bodies is powerful and necessary for our survival. In fact, it is the cornerstone of the body’s healing response, ensuring that appropriate nourishment and adequate immune activity is delivered to an area that is injured or otherwise attacked.
Chronic inflammation, though, that extends beyond the boundaries of a localized area or continues for a long period of time can be destructive to our health. Even since the 19th century, the idea that inflammation is the underlying cause of aging, and age-related illnesses has been studied in depth. Researchers now know that the body, responding to constant inflammation triggers, develops an overactive immune response system, which, in turn, can gradually damage organs throughout the body.
One of the simplest causes of underlying inflammation and one that we have some control over is an “inflammatory lifestyle,” which includes factors of our everyday modern way of doing things – environmental toxin exposure, stress, and poor diet. We enhance our chances of staying healthy, vigorous, and energetic by addressing these issues.
For example, we know that the foods we eat can make a big difference in the amount of inflammation we have in our bodies. If you missed the pieces I’ve done recently related to the subject, click here and here.
The role of exercise in staving off inflammation is not as well documented as the role of proper nutrition.
Still, experts still tout physical activity as one of the best ways to keep inflammation at bay. The good news is that it doesn’t matter much how you move, as long as you just get out and move. The indirect results of exercise on inflammatory diseases are bountiful, and if you don’t have an inflammatory illness, exercise may be a factor in keeping you from getting one.
Running for an hour or more per week lowers a man’s risk of developing heart disease by 42% according to some research in the Journal of American Medical Association. People who exercise regularly are also less likely to be overweight, which lowers the odds of suffering from an inflammation-related illness.
It’s worth repeating that “you can’t out-exercise a poor diet,” one laden with inflammatory foods. Still, exercise helps.
How Exercise Helps Reduce Inflammation
Exercise helps to muffle inflammation. It has been shown to lower levels of C-reactive protein, (CRP – the body’s marker for inflammation). 722 men participated in one study at the Cooper Institute in Dallas. Their fitness levels were measured by how long they could walk on a treadmill at gradually rising inclines. Inflammation levels were calculated by performing blood tests for CRP.
The results showed that the men who did very well on the treadmill test had much lower levels of CRP than those who struggled. Among the men in the lowest fitness group, 49% had dangerously high CRP scores. Only 18% of those in the highest fitness group had elevated CRP levels.
Interestingly, the scientists aren’t exactly sure how exercise diffuses inflammation. It may be that it goads the body into making more anti-oxidants, which then seek and destroy free radicals associated with prolonged inflammation.
Scientists have confirmed that inflammation in the body increases with age. Hence, one possibility for why exercise lowers it is that exercise fools the body into thinking that it is younger than it is, so it produces more anti-oxidants to control inflammation and slow the aging process. Our bodies are amazing, are they not?!
How to Maximize the Anti-inflammatory Properties of Exercise
– Make it a habit. 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity is a good goal – walking, swimming, running, or even yardwork. It’s better to do a little most days than to try to squeeze a week’s worth of exercise on the weekend.
-Mix and match activities. The best results for lowering inflammation will come from a mixture of aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, swimming, or biking, and some moderate strength training with body weight moves such as squats and pushups, or weightlifting either at a gym or with hand weights or kettle balls at home.
– Take it easy. If you end up very stiff after a workout, dial it down. Sore muscles and joints may ultimately fuel inflammation more than they help.
– Bring your mind along. A good mental state will help you. People who often feel angry or hostile have higher CRP levels than people who are mostly calm and cool. Cortisol, a stress hormone, triggers the body to release a host of chemicals that increase inflammation. Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong bring a meditative focus into the exercise mix, which is helpful in maintaining a healthy mental state.
The moral of the story is this. Find some exercise that you love to do and do it. Add the practice to your other health-enhancing practices like eating well, eliminating toxic exposure, and getting adequate rest. You’ll feel better longer, more able to do what you love to do with the people you love to be with.