Guest blog by Sam Hadadi,
Whether you’re a mountain climber, a marathon runner, or you simply like to squeeze in a spot of HIIT or weight training, we all know that getting sweaty is good for both body and mind.
From fighting obesity to strengthening the heart, bones and, yes, building up those muscles, there are myriad benefits to regular exercise. Yet researchers have now discovered that exercise may be a powerful anti-inflammatory – and all it takes is a quick 20-minute workout to see you reap the rewards.
Scientists at the University of California have discovered that just one, short burst of moderate exercise can act as an anti-inflammatory, meaning that exercise could now be used to fight off conditions and chronic diseases like arthritis, fibromyalgia and even obesity.
Suzi Hong, a senior author on the study, summed it up best, stating: "Each time we exercise, we are truly doing something good for our body on many levels, including at the immune cell level.
“The anti-inflammatory benefits of exercise have been known to researchers, but finding out how that process happens is the key to safely maximizing those benefits."
Want to find out more and see what this means for you? Read on…
To test exercise’s anti-inflammatory ‘super powers’, the researchers put 47 healthy volunteers on treadmills. Blood was collected both before and immediately after the 20-minute exercise challenge.
As a result, they discovered that just 20 minutes of running at a moderate pace saw the level of proteins that boost the immune system, soar by 5 per cent.
That’s right, just 20 minutes – no need for a marathon, or to put in hours at the gym…
Yet, why did the researchers see these effects? Why does exercise have such a powerful anti-inflammatory effect?
Well, to delve a little deeper, it seems that both the brain and our sympathetic nervous system (or, in English, a special sort of pathway that works to accelerate heart rate and raise blood pressure!) are activated during exercise. To cut a long story short, this helps the body to exercise.
On top of this, hormones, such as epinephrine and norepinephrine, are released into the blood stream and trigger adrenergic receptors, which we find in immune cells. As a result, our body goes into overdrive to produce cytokines, or proteins, one of which is TNF - a regulator of inflammation and something which helps to boost immune responses.
So, now you know that exercise stimulates an anti-inflammatory response, but what does that actually mean for you? And why is it so beneficial?
Well, before we get to the nitty gritty, let’s make one thing clear: not all inflammation is bad1. In fact, it’s actually a pretty crucial part of the body's immune response. It can help our body to heal itself after injury, repair damaged tissue, and also help us to defend against nasties such as viruses and bacteria.
The problem comes when our body sees chronic inflammation. This is when it can get nasty and can lead to some pretty serious health issues associated with diabetes, coeliac disease, obesity and other conditions.
Yet, perhaps given this study, exercise can now be used to prevent or treat certain aspects of these diseases. Plus, it has heaps of other benefits2, too – it can make us feel good, and will keep our body feeling fit and strong.
As researchers said: "Knowing what sets regulatory mechanisms of inflammatory proteins in motion may contribute to developing new therapies for the overwhelming number of individuals with chronic inflammatory conditions, including nearly 25 million Americans who suffer from autoimmune diseases."
Encouraging news, isn’t it? Especially for anyone who finds getting sweaty to be something of a chore, or for those of you who have very little time to squeeze in a killer session at the gym…
Author Suzi Hong added: "Our study shows a workout session doesn't actually have to be intense to have anti-inflammatory effects. Twenty minutes to half-an-hour of moderate exercise, including fast walking, appears to be sufficient.
"Feeling like a workout needs to be at a peak exertion level for a long duration can intimidate those who suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases and could greatly benefit from physical activity.
"Patients with chronic inflammatory diseases should always consult with their physician regarding the appropriate treatment plan, but knowing that exercise can act as an anti-inflammatory is an exciting step forward in possibilities.”
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.