Exercise – An effective anti-inflammation fighter

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Exercise – An effective anti-inflammation fighter

We know the mantra of why regular exercise is important – reduces heart disease, improves metabolism, weight control, mood, as well as strengthens bones and muscles.  But a very important health benefit that should be added and perhaps moved to the top – reduces inflammation.

Chronic low-grade systemic inflammation is a common occurrence as we age.  We may not feel, see or know it is occurring but chronic inflammation is associated with increased risk for disease, poor physical functioning and mortality.  Chronic inflammation in the body can often result in “wear and tear” conditions such as osteoarthritis, and autoimmune diseases, like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease. Other conditions associated with inflammation include obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

This chronic inflammation is due to circulating levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin (IL)-6 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF).  When elderly people are compared to younger individuals, these pro-inflammatory cytokines are at higher levels. 

New research from the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine set out to discover if exercise would improve the body’s anti-inflammatory response by activating the sympathetic nervous system.  The sympathetic nervous system helps to increase heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.  Being physically active helps activate this system by releasing hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine into the bloodstream activating adrenergic receptors of immune cells.

To test their hypothesis, 47 participants were asked to walk on a treadmill for 20 minutes at an intensity level adjusted according to their fitness level.  Blood samples were taken from each participant both before and after the exercise.

This new study found that one 20 minutes session of moderate exercise can produce an anti-inflammatory response at the cellular level while stimulating the immune system.  Just 20 minutes of walking at a moderate pace on a treadmill resulted in a 5 percent reduction in the number of stimulated immune cells producing the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNF.

The researchers pointed out that the exercise session does not have to be intense in order to have anti-inflammatory effects.  It appears that 20 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise that includes brisk walking is sufficient to achieve the benefits of reducing inflammation.

The encouraging news from this research is that patients suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions such as diabetes, fibromyalgia, obesity, arthritic or celiac disease can utilize exercise to suppress inflammation.  However these same patients should always consult with their doctor before embarking on an exercise program. 

The findings from this research also point to the fact that everyone, at all ages of life, should be participating in a regular, consistent exercise program to possibly help lower the risk of developing an inflammatory condition to begin with.

Exercises positive benefits extend into reducing inflammation of which we are all at risk of.  To gain the full advantages exercise can bring, try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week.  An exercise workout that raises the heart rate counts the most.  This could include brisk walking, playing tennis, jogging, swimming, and even gardening.