Can Exercise Really Reduce Inflammation?
In short, yes. Here's how it happens, both during your workout and after.
We all experience inflammation, which is an umbrella term for the body's natural response to injury of some kind, be it an infection, physical injury, or toxin. As a result, it's quite common to experience a slew of symptoms, including muscle stiffness, swelling, fatigue, and pain. "Inflammation is our body's built-in, natural defense mechanism in response to injury, stress, or infection," explains Jennifer Giamo, C.P.T., a NSCA-certified personal trainer and founder of Trainers in Transit. "The body reacts to these 'foreign invaders' by creating inflammation, which isn't necessarily a bad thing depending on the type and how long the body remains inflamed."
As it turns out, there are two different types of inflammation: acute and chronic. "Acute is a short-term response to minor injuries or illnesses and lasts for a few days compared to chronic, which is long-term, systematic, and can lead to bigger health issues if not resolved," explains Giamo. "This is often the cause of age-related diseases brought on by lifestyle choices, such as poor diet, and exacerbated by lack of exercise."
While inflammation, to some degree, is inevitable, one of the best ways to stave it off, or at least keep it at bay, is through exercise. In fact, a recent 2017 study published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity found that getting your blood pumping for just 20 minutes can stimulate the immune system enough to produce the cellular response that fights it. So, if you're looking to reduce the inflammation in your body, a few key exercises can help.
"Moderate aerobic exercise affects the body's immune system, and immunity is kicked into higher gear in certain areas," says Jamie Bacharach, Dipl.Ac of Acupuncture Jerusalem. "The effects can last several hours after the physical activity has already ended." Outdoor activities and exercises have also been shown to improve physical and mental well-being—both of which have a significant effect on the body's inflammatory response, continues Bacharach. "There's something about being out in nature—more than an urban area—which awakens the body and its natural processes and defenses." If you live in an urban area, be sure to take full advantage of local parks and greenery so that your body can reap the benefits of truly being outdoors.
Those with inflammation may benefit from low-impact exercises, too. "Yoga, walking, and cycling are a few examples of low-impact activities which can help to reduce inflammatory responses in the body," says Bacharach. "Remove resistance (and any weights) from the equation, and work with your own body's weight." Last, but certainly not least, the simple act of stretching can help reduce inflammation. "Stretching not only prepares the body for exercise, but it also alerts us to an increase in intensity," explains Giamo. "Stretching helps reduce the risk of injury and inflammation when gradually increasing exercise intensity."