How does exercise affect inflammation?
Written by: Justyna Wiraszka
Reading Time: 5 Minutes
Physical exercise is one of the most vital things you can do for your body.
Not only can it help you manage your weight, contribute to your brain health, and strengthen your bones and muscles, but it also reduces the risk of several different health conditions such as: diabetes type 2, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, dementia, depression, and 13 different types of cancer. A lot of these conditions are connected to inflammation, which exercise can help to decrease.
Sounds pretty good, right?
But is there such a thing as too much exercise? Could overdoing it actually be causing inflammation instead of stopping it?
In this blog we will have a closer look at the connection between exercise and inflammation. First, we will get into what inflammation is, how it affects your body, and how you can measure it. Then, we will look at the effects of exercise on your body and determine whether high intensity exercise can cause inflammation.
What is inflammation and what is its effect on your body?
Inflammation is your body’s response to harmful triggers such as infection, tissue injury, trauma, radiation, or chemical compounds (e.g. alcohol, glucose). The mechanism behind the inflammatory reaction is very complex, but its purpose is, essentially, to limit the impact of the harmful factor, neutralize it, and repair your damaged tissue.
There are a set of well-known signs associated with inflammation, such as presence of heat, swelling, redness, pain, stiffness, and immobility in the affected area.
The redness and heat are the result of increased blood flow; the widening of your blood vessels (vasodilation) and increased permeability of the blood vessels can also result in swelling of the area. Pain can be either a result of damage to the area or of the inflammatory response. Loss of mobility can be caused by swelling and pain, or, if inflammation continues, by scar tissue.
How do you measure inflammation?
One of the most common ways to measure inflammation is to check the level of C-reactive protein (CRP) in your blood, which is produced by your liver in response to inflammation. It is a well-known biomarker used by healthcare professionals to diagnose acute phase response of the inflammatory process.
Abnormal CRP values generally reflect the presence and intensity of an inflammatory process; elevated levels can signal the presence of a disease and correspond to the extent of the inflammation. CRP may be elevated even before clinical symptoms arise.
How does exercise affect your body?
As mentioned before, regular exercise can have many benefits. It can help to burn fat which, if there is too much in your body, can increase inflammation. Exercise also lowers your blood pressure and can improve your levels of “bad” cholesterol. This, in turn, can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. It also reduces the risk of diabetes type 2 by lowering the glucose levels in your blood and making your body more sensitive to insulin.
NHS England advises adults to have at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week and 2 days of muscle strengthening exercise to stay healthy.
Yet despite all of its benefits, it is possible to overdo exercise and hurt yourself in the process.
What happens when you exercise too much?
If you continue intense or vigorous exercise, which is defined as working out at 70-85% of your maximum heart rate, and stretch yourself beyond your limit, we talk about ‘overtraining’.
While there is a lot of research on this issue, the results are conflicting. There is no clear consensus from the medical community on how much is ‘too much’. But researchers agree that exercise capacity is individual and so is your threshold for overtraining.
There are several signs you may be overtraining such as:
- a decline in training capacity
- greater fatigue during and after training
- worse mood
- poor quality of sleep
- loss of appetite
- recurring pain
- possible injuries
Does intense exercise increase inflammation?
Many researchers have found that CRP increased both after intense and after moderate exercise. Longer activities were found to result in higher levels of inflammation and may increase the risk of injuries. However, moderate exercise or vigorous exercise with resting periods may be the most effective method and provide the best benefit for your health. This conclusion is based on a systematic review that was conducted with over 1380 articles.
Generally, after strenuous exercise, there is a short-term, temporary increase in your CRP level. However, regular exercise may reduce this response. This is not the case for muscle damage sustained during exercise, though, which can cause soreness and impaired function, and is connected to more intense and longer periods of inflammation.
Excessive exercise in athletes has also been found to make them more susceptible to infections. Additionally, high levels of training are associated with physiological and metabolic stress, which can be linked to inflammation, dysfunction of your immune system, and damaged muscles for up to several days, depending on the individual and the intensity of exercise (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11).
Even though intense exercise can increase CRP levels, the resting levels of inflammation markers are generally lower in individuals who exercise regularly, as opposed to those with a sedentary lifestyle and high BMI, highlighting the important role of exercise in combating inflammation.
To summarize, your CRP levels usually go up after intense exercise causing inflammation and signs thereof such as muscle pain or tiredness. However, they should return to normal after a few days.
What should you do?
It is important to find the right balance between either performing moderate exercise or intense exercise with enough time to rest. How often and intensely you can or should exercise and how long your breaks should be depends entirely on you as an individual.
There is not one right answer that fits everyone.
To find which kind of exercise fits you best, you may want to consult with a personal trainer or a doctor. Remember to listen to your body and keep an eye on the signs of overtraining mentioned above, but don’t be scared to keep an active lifestyle going.
Curious to check your CRP? Visit our site to read more about our Bloom Inflammation Test.
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