Exercise and Inflammation: What You Need to Know

on January 16, 2019

Inflammation has been a hot button topic in the health/wellness/fitness world lately, and I’ve had questions about it both professionally and personally. Inflammation to me is a broad term that can be both okay and problematic. I wanted to touch on when exercise caused inflammation is okay and is part of the body’s natural healing process and when it is problematic and should be addressed.

First, I think we should talk about the difference between acute and chronic inflammation.  Acute inflammation is an inflammatory response that resolves quickly.  An example of this could be soreness after an intense workout. This soreness can last for a few days, but almost always improves with rest and recovery. Inflammation becomes chronic in regard to exercise when the stress of exercise is not removed.  This is the case with overuse injuries, the excessive breakdown of lean muscle mass and soreness that does not resolve itself.

A few recent studies have shown:

  • A decrease in inflammation in women who engaged in a resistance training plan
  • Adults who exercise regularly have less inflammation than those who do not
  • Resistance training paired with endurance exercise reduced inflammation more than endurance training alone

The idea that resistance training paired with endurance exercise reduced inflammation more than endurance training alone interested me. Why would more dynamic exercise actually help with inflammation more than lower intensity exercise? The answer was actually quite brilliant in its simplicity:

When you are having a bad 8-mile run. You very rarely stop the run because you just can’t go any further. Most of the time we “suck it up” and finish what is a long and unenjoyable exercise session.

If we are having a bad day on the bench press, we can’t just slog through the workout.  You must change the resistance, or sets, or just stop exercising all together.

It’s this type of amendment to an exercise session that help us manage the inflammation response to exercise, without us even knowing we are doing so. 

So how do we manage, or eliminate, inflammation due to exercise?

The most important thing to remember is that regular exercise is anti-inflammatory.  But we need to make sure that we are always recovering from our exercise bouts. This means that our nutrition must help us fuel for the exercise but must also help us recover. We need to be getting enough sleep and we must make sure that we are hydrated properly as well. These are no brainers… right?!

The difficult one for most people is variety. Endurance runners who aren’t engaging in a stretching and resistance training plan can see an increase in inflammation. Cross Fit athletes who are performing the hardest WOD (workout of the day) they can find on a daily basis and not recovering can see an increase in inflammation. I hate clichés, but “All Things in Moderation” works when it comes to exercise.

Remember, SpecialtyHealth now has a stable inflammation marker that we can test for easily with our regular blood panel. If you are interested in that or have any exercise questions, we are always here for you.

– Ethan Opdahl, Exercise Physiologist/Fitness Health Coach

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