How inflammation affects your exercise

Inflammation is the body’s way of healing itself after an injury and protecting itself from infection. As part of the inflammatory response, your body increases its production of white blood cells, immune cells, and substances called cytokines to help fight off infection. So, inflammation itself is not a bad thing.

The problem occurs when you develop chronic inflammation. This is linked to all kinds of diseases, from diabetes to heart disease.

How does inflammation work during exercise?

As you’re squatting or doing pull-ups, you’re repetitively contracting and relaxing your muscles under heavy loads. This can cause muscle fibres to tear, and muscle cells to break apart.

Inflammation comes into play during the repair process when your body increases its blood flow to the affected area to replenish oxygen, fuel muscles, and clear out waste.

Essentially, inflammation’s purpose is to remove cellular debris from the site of damage and initiate repair. There are three phases of the inflammation response:

  1. Blood accumulates at the site of damage, which causes regular symptoms like swelling, heat and stiffness that are normally associated with inflammation.
  2. Specialised white blood cells, called neutrophils, travel to the injured area and absorb the debris of damaged cells.
  3. Other cells (known as macrophages) accumulate at the site of damage to complete the clean-up process and stimulate tissue regeneration.

Best strategies to reduce chronic inflammation

As we know, the classic signs of acute inflammation include redness, pain, heat, and swelling. Regular exercise is an excellent way to prevent chronic inflammation. How so?

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If you stick to a routine of exercise instead of random sessions once or twice a week, your body’s ability to recover improves. It has also been shown to boost your immune system. Make time for 30-45 minutes of aerobic exercise and 10-25 minutes of weight or resistance training at least four to five times per week.

Choose a balanced diet that cuts out processed products and boosts your intake of whole, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich foods.

Unfortunately, some foods are associated with an increased risk of chronic inflammation. Be sure to avoid or minimise sugary foods and beverages, processed meat, excessive alcohol, and foods high in refined carbs and unhealthy fats. Opt for anti-inflammatory foods like:

  • Broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower.
  • Fruit, especially rich-coloured berries like grapes and cherries.
  • High-fat fruit like avocados and olives.
  • Healthy fats like olive oil and coconut oil.
  • Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, and anchovies.
  • Almonds.
  • Bell peppers and chili peppers.
  • Dark chocolate.
  • Turmeric, fenugreek and cinnamon.
  • Green tea.
  • Red wine: Up to 140 ml of red wine per day for women and 280 ml per day for men.

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