The Role of Exercise in Managing Pain and Inflammation

Modern lifestyles of lack of physical activity and over-reliance on fast foods have left a staggering 60% of the world's population affected by chronic pain and inflammation. In the United States alone, about 125 Million Americans live with chronic conditions associated with hyperactive immune response.

Even worse, people suffering from long-term inflammation and pain are at risk of being withdrawn and limiting their ability to participate in things they love to do, resulting in a decrease in overall quality of life.

For decades, prescription drugs and painkillers have dominated the medical field, leading to widespread pill dependency and long-term side effects.

Today, healthcare experts advocate that exercise should be not only a preventive measure but also a main treatment method for optimizing health and fighting off diseases associated with chronic inflammation.

This article will discuss the role of exercise in keeping our immune system in check and fighting off chronic inflammation to live a healthier and more fulfilling life.

Inflammation is not a bad thing. It is a normal process that is part of our natural defense response. Through inflammation, our immune system recognizes and eliminates harmful toxins and begins the healing process.

When we get injured, inflammatory response helps speed up blood flow to damaged tissues and allows cells carrying nutrients and other repair factors to patch up the area and start the recovery process.

However, too much or uncontrolled inflammation is a bad thing. Chronic inflammation can lead to chronic diseases such as diabetes, fibromyalgia, arthritis, bowel diseases, heart disease, and obesity.

Inflammation is normal. Too much of it is harmful.

However, when inflammation becomes chronic or is triggered inappropriately, it can do more harm than good. In such cases, the body's immune system essentially goes into overdrive, attacking normal cells and tissues as if they were foreign invaders.

Not only does long-term inflammation pose significant health risks, but it also often leads to persistent pain. This discomfort can significantly impact our physical capabilities, limiting social participation and causing emotional strain. That’s why millions of people affected by chronic inflammation are also experiencing mental health challenges, such as depression and anxiety.

Chronic inflammation can also damage blood vessels and cause metabolic disorders like Type 2 diabetes. Moreover, its persistent nature has been linked to certain cancers, as inflammation creates a conducive environment for tumor growth.

Triggers of chronic inflammation:

Living a sedentary lifestyle and eating an unhealthy diet can cause multiple physiological disruptions in our body that can increase inflammation.

Accumulation of fat tissue from excessive calories and lack of physical activity can cause irreversible harm to our health if left unchecked. If we store too much fat around our organs, the fat cells release substances that are "pro-inflammatory" that can contribute to low-grade inflammation within the body, setting the stage for various health complications in the long run.

When you're not active and eat a lot of sugary snacks, it can mess up the way your hormones work, particularly insulin, which helps control blood sugar levels. But if your body starts ignoring insulin, blood sugar levels rise, and the body will deal with it by releasing more insulin, which counterintuitively worsens inflammation.

Recent studies have shown that even just 20 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises daily is enough to elevate the body's immune system and fight inflammation.

Scientists believe regular physical activities can help improve the body's anti-inflammatory response by triggering the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). When activated, the SNS releases substances that stop the body from making hormones and substances that cause inflammation, allowing your body to have better control over inflammation.

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In addition, regular exercise can enhance our stress response, thus contributing to the development of both physical and mental resilience. People with a regular exercise routine have a better outlook and are better at dealing with stress, resulting in lower risks of autoimmune diseases and chronic conditions.

20 minutes of exercise can help reduce inflammatory response.

Moderate-intensity exercises are enough to lower the body's inflammatory response. The good news is these exercises can be done even in the comfort of your home.

Movement is medicine, and the human body is designed to keep moving. The key is always to have some form of mild to moderate physical activity to prevent inflammation and stop the development of lifestyle diseases.

Physical activities that steadily increase heart rate and breathing and promote circulation can enhance oxygen delivery to different tissues and organs in the body. Enhanced oxygen exchange can lead to better nutrient absorption and elimination of toxins in the body.

Walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming are excellent physical activities that can keep your heart healthy and body moving. It is recommended to have at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, which can easily be achieved by doing 20-30 minutes of exercise per day.

Yoga and other stretching routines can help relax the muscles and soothe the mind.

Incorporating them into your routine can help induce relaxation and mental clarity.

Focusing on deep breathing activities can help eliminate mental clutter often associated with having too much to think about and being overwhelmed with everyday tasks. Stress is a known contributor to inflammation and autoimmune diseases.

If you can improve your stress response, you can have more control over your health.

Here’s a plan for women that will manage inflammation:

And for men:

Studies have shown that resistance training is effective in controlling inflammation, especially in older adults who are more susceptible to infection and diseases.

Performing bodyweight training or calisthenics such as push-ups and bodyweight squats is a great way to improve muscle strength and have an exercise routine without causing excessive stress on your joints compared to lifting heavier loads with weights.

Unlike exercises that involve heavy weights, which can put considerable stress on your joints, bodyweight exercises utilize your weight as resistance. This minimizes joint strain and provides a more balanced way to build strength, as it often involves compound movements that engage multiple muscle groups.

Bodyweight training can decrease inflammation while minimizing joint strain.

According to a long-term study by the Mayo Clinic, 8 hours or more of endurance exercises can lead to lasting effects on the heart tissues and blood vessels.

Excessive endurance training can restructure the heart and large arteries due to repetitive injuries the heart sustained without proper healing. This could lead to the stiffening of the arterial walls, which can lead to high blood pressure and increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

Furthermore, exercise itself causes natural stress and inflammatory responses in the body. However, when exercises are extreme, excessive, and prolonged, they cause long-term immune suppression.

Too much of something is harmful, even in exercise. Remember that rest and recovery are vital parts of your fitness journey.

More than 8 hours of prolonged extreme endurance exercises per week can be harmful too.

Millions of people are affected by chronic inflammation and pain, which can significantly affect one's quality of life. In addition, uncontrolled inflammation can also lead to the development of chronic diseases.

Exercise is an effective tool to prevent pain, injuries, and inflammation and combat inflammatory responses in the body. However, too much exercise can also lead to immune suppression. The key is to find a balance between rest, recovery, and a routine of moderate physical activities.

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Bert Bauzon is a licensed physiotherapist specializing in spinal care and sports rehabilitation. He writes articles and books about exercise science and health care.

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