It’s well-known that exercise helps us in a myriad of ways–improving mental and physical health and everything in between. It keeps us strong and healthy, helps our bones and our heart, and does many other things that you’ve probably read about on your journey to ultimate health. But did you know that it can also help reduce inflammation?
Does Exercise Reduce Inflammation?
Like the majority of Americans right now, you are probably staying at home to help flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most people who regularly work out, you probably don’t have access to your gym. A more sedentary lifestyle may be causing soreness, restlessness, atrophy or even inflammation. Exercise can help with all of the above — especially inflammation.
Acute Inflammation vs Chronic Inflammation
- According to the folks at Hammer Nutrition, Acute inflammation is short-term, with effects subsiding after a few days. It occurs from things like minor injuries (e.g. cuts, scrapes, sprains) and minor illnesses (sore throats, etc.), as well as after bouts of exercise. In fact, some inflammation is actually necessary to benefit from your workouts. It’s part of the natural recovery process and the body compensating from the stress the workout caused. In fact, the recovery process is what makes your muscles stronger after exercise.
- Chronic inflammation (a.k.a. systemic inflammation) is long-term, persistent, and unhealthy, even if it is only low-grade. Though damaged body tissues rely on the inflammatory response in order to heal, when that cycle becomes chronic and inflammation does not resolve, health issues emerge. In fact, research shows that inflammation is an underlying culprit behind virtually all age-related diseases.
Benefits of Acute Inflammation
Acute Inflammation is a necessary benefit from your workouts. In layman’s terms, your muscles get sore when you work out because they’re inflamed. When they begin to heal themselves by sending white blood cells to the muscles and inflamed body parts, it’s a good thing! It’s how your muscles grow stronger.
If you exercise regularly and recover completely, the exercise decreases levels of TNF (tumor necrosis factor) and CRP (C-reactive protein), both of which are involved in systemic inflammation. The key to reaping the benefits of exercise and avoiding chronic inflammation is making sure that you allow enough time for the body to recover after every strenuous session. Make sure you drink plenty of water to help this process, as well.
Scientists believe that an overactive immune system is behind many chronic and acute illnesses. Our immune system evolved when infections were much more common and thus in modern times it tends to way over-react to illnesses such as viruses. It is often this over-reaction that is responsible for the bad effects of the infection. However, regular exercise, by causing low-level inflammation, trains the immune system to not be so aggressive. Just as regular exposure to small amounts of an allergen can train your immune system not to react to larger doses, regular exposure to low-level inflammation through exercise can train your immune system not to over react to viruses and other infections.
Medical News Today recently did a study that discovered a mere 20 minutes of cardiovascular workout per day can reduce inflammation by 5% each time. This has to do with the TNF and CRP being reduced as you workout.
They go on to explain: “The sympathetic nervous system helps to increase heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. Physical exercise activates this system to help the body keep up.
During this time, the body releases hormones such as epinephrine and nor-epinephrine into the bloodstream, which activate the adrenergic receptors of immune cells.”
You read that right! Working out can help us all the way down to our cells. Knowing what sets our inflammatory proteins into motion may contribute to developing new therapies for the overwhelming number of folks with chronic inflammatory conditions, including the nearly 25 million Americans who suffer from autoimmune diseases.
Six Natural Ways to Reduce Inflammation
- Make sure you stretch! Ensure your body is prepared to move and gets the most out of your workout. It helps prevent injury, as well.
- Drink plenty of water. The suggested amount is half the ounces of your body weight in pounds- daily. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink seventy-five ounces or about two quarts per day. If you need help with your water intake, there are smart water bottles you can use!
- Avoid too much sodium. We know salty snacks are delicious, but adding that much sodium to your body can quickly cause inflammation.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids. Some of the best sources of omega-3s are cold water fish, such as salmon and tuna, and tofu, walnuts, flax seeds and soybeans. Other anti-inflammatory foods include grapes, celery, blueberries, garlic, olive oil, green tea and some spices (ginger, rosemary and turmeric).
- After working out, enjoy a piece of fruit and high protein food to replenish nutrients in your body and muscles.
- Try to manage your stress. We are all facing an unfamiliar and uphill battle with Coronavirus and being isolated from our families, friends, and community. We are inundated with a barrage of bad news almost daily, if not hourly. Remember that chronic stress contributes to inflammation. Use meditation, yoga, biofeedback, guided imagery or some other method to manage stress throughout the day. We can’t change the stressors, but we can change how we respond to and treat them. Lean on a friend, therapist, or counselor if you need to, as well.
Talk to your doctor. People with a family history of health problems, such as heart disease or colon cancer, should talk to their physicians about lifestyle changes that support preventing disease by reducing inflammation.
Most people want to work out to lose weight or help clear their minds. But by working out as little as 20 minutes a day can have lasting effects and truly help you stay healthy for years to come.
Let me know how you’ve been working out in self-isolation! I have clients who have gotten creative by getting aerobic trampolines, a home TRX system, or have begun doing living room yoga. Stimulate your body, mind, AND cells while you’re stuck at home. Your body will thank you for it now and in the future.