Salmon, broccoli, kelp and blueberries. These foods, among others, continue to garner praises as they top the hot list for anti-inflammatory cuisine. Proponents of anti-inflammatory diets point to plentiful benefits such as a reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers, and perhaps even a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers are now focusing more attention on the anti-inflammatory benefits of exercise. While studies are not yet conclusive enough to give exact recommendations as to the specific type, intensity, duration or frequency of exercise best suited for anti-inflammatory results, we know that exercise plays a major role in the body’s inflammatory processes. Here are some of the general conclusions we can draw from current research:
1. Regular exercise reduces markers of generalized, systemic inflammation such as C-reactive protein. On the other hand, a single moderate to intense exercise session increases markers of both local (in the muscle tissue) and systemic inflammation. To put it simply, exercise is inflammatory in the very short run and anti-inflammatory in the long run.
2. Resistance training, such as lifting weights, plays a key role in maximizing anti-inflammatory benefits.
3. Inflammation is a natural, temporary reaction to the physical stresses of an exercise session. It is a necessary part of repairing, rebuilding and ultimately strengthening the involved tissues and systems of the body.
4. As you train, your body gets more efficient at minimizing the short-term inflammatory reaction to exercise. Your body heightens its anti-inflammatory response so that each workout session triggers less of an inflammatory response.
In the aggregate, exercise should work to bolster your efforts of decreasing the amount of inflammation in your body. But some workouts may be sabotaging those efforts instead.
Given that single exercise bouts temporarily increase inflammation anywhere from a few hours to several days, problems arise when you don’t allow enough time for the acute inflammatory phase to subside before making it spike again with another stressful workout. If you don’t allow full recovery between workouts, you place yourself in a chronic state of inflammation instead of garnering the benefits of decreased inflammation from exercise.
What kinds of exercise can cause this? Depending on how it’s structured, certainly daily marathon or triathlon training can do it. More often the culprit may be high-intensity resistance and aerobic training programs such as CrossFit and some boot camp programs. Don’t get me wrong—I like a lot of what they do. But I only have to listen to a few women at the elementary school playground chronically complaining about their exhaustion and needing to ice their backs because of the latest week’s regimen to know that they’re in a state of chronic inflammation.
Here’s the take home: If you find that you expend most of your available energy in your workout and have little left over to attack your day, something needs to change with your exercise routine. If you’re regularly reacting to or complaining about the physical effects of your workouts, something needs to change. If your exercise is taking from you more than it is giving, it’s time to change that.
Your workouts should feel good, both in the short- and long-term. They should give you energy for your day and week and not just for the workout session. They should help you think better, sleep better and improve your mood.
If you suspect your workouts may be creating an inflammation problem instead of an anti-inflammatory benefit, don’t think that you have to give up what you’re doing. Likely, you just need to tweak it by spending a little more time between workouts, shortening your workout session or decreasing the intensity a bit. You may want to change up the type of exercise you’re doing as well. Above all, listen to what your body is telling you. If you do, you’ll be able to do the physical activities you love for longer and enjoy it more in the process.
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