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Role of exercise in inflammation reduction in the body

Updated on November 16, 2014

Inflammation can be produced by underlying physical, chemical, infectious, ischemic, immune and metabolic causes. Inflammation is a protective response of the tissue due to these causes and its main aim is to start the process of repair. These underlying causes give rise to three types of inflammation, namely, acute, chronic and granulomatous. All these types of inflammation adversely affect our immune system, resulting in chronic inflammatory diseases.

Role of exercise in reducing inflammation – The following observations have been made about the beneficial effects of regular exercise on inflammation -

  • Physical inactivity results in chronic low grade inflammation. Moreover, physical inactivity increases the risk of atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, neuro-degeneration, tumor growth, reduced functional capacity and reduced longevity. Inflammation promotes muscle catabolism, which is a destructive metabolism resulting in the breakdown of muscle protein.
  • It is reported that moderate aerobic activity would attenuate inflammatory processes in the body. But aerobic activity combined with resistance training reduces C-reactive protein in young, healthy persons better than aerobic training alone.
  • Some of the beneficial role of physical activity may result from its effects on the inflammatory process. There is a short-term, transient increase in serum C-reactive protein after strenuous exercise, mediated by the cytokine system and mainly IL-6. But regular exercise training may blunt this response resulting in a positive homeostatic and anti-inflammatory response after strenuous exercise. Chronic physical activity reduces resting C-reactive protein levels by multiple mechanisms, including a decrease in cytokine production by adipose tissue, skeletal muscles, endothelial and blood mononuclear cells, improved endothelial function and insulin sensitivity, and possibly an antioxidant effect.
  • Aging is associated with low grade inflammation in the body. The benefits of regular low resistance exercise are well established, which include reduction in inflammation in aged persons. A reduction in low grade inflammation is measured by a significant reduction in C-reactive protein and NTF-alpha, both being its parameters. Apart from a reduction in the level of inflammation, an increased muscle thickness is also associated with resistance exercise in aged persons.
  • In type 2 diabetics, long-term high intensity resistance and aerobic training reduce inflammatory markers over the course of a year independent of changes in body weight; it means that activity is the key factor.
  • A study in 2009 showed that a moderate-intensity exercise program for twelve months reduced C-reactive protein among women, who were obese at baseline. These findings support the role of exercise in reducing inflammatory processes that are related to increased risk of chronic disease among obese women.
  • In a study in Epidemiology in 2002, mounting evidence suggested that physical activity may reduce inflammation among US adults, which is a critical process in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease.

WHO guidelines for an exercise routine -

The above observations corroborate that regular exercise reduces inflammation in the body at any age. It is equally effective in doing so even in old age because aging itself produces inflammation in the body. It will be wise if an exercise plan should incorporate both aerobic activity and strength training. According to WHO, a well constructed exercise plan should have the following of its recommendations.

  • Individuals aged 18–64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. Aerobic activity can be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration.
  • For more health benefits, an individual can increase moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
  • Muscle-strengthening training should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
  • Individuals should perform stretching exercises for five to ten minutes before and after the exercise schedule as warm-up and cool-down exercises.
  • When older individuals cannot do the recommended amounts of physical activity due to health conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.
  • Children and youth aged 5–17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily. Physical activity greater than 60 minutes provides additional health benefits.
  • In the above age group, most of the daily physical activity should be aerobic. Vigorous-intensity activities should be incorporated, including those that strengthen muscle and bone at least 3 times per week.

If an exercise plan is well combined with a diet that fights inflammation, the beneficial effects of both will be potentiated in fighting the inflammation in the body.


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    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image

      Dr Pran Rangan 3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for the comment. Since I cannot understand what you have written, I will be thankful if you can translate it into English.