Inflammation isn't the sexiest fitness topic under the sun, but it's a vital bodily response to harm. If we get into a car accident, inflammation will protect injured joints through swelling; think of it as a surge of soldiers from the immune system racing in to begin repair. But chronic inflammation can contribute to all sorts of harmful conditions, ranging from heart conditions, to arthritis, to Crohn’s Disease Inflammation and Cardiovascular Disease Mechanisms. Libby, P. Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006 Feb;83(2):456S-460S.. A new study, however, suggests a combination of different types of exercise can be especially helpful when it comes to combating runaway inflammation — and fending off some nasty diseases later in life Effects of chronic exercise training on inflammatory markers in Australian overweight and obese individuals in a randomized controlled trial. Ho, S.S., Dhaliwal, S.S., Hills, A.P., et al. School of Public Health, Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute, Curtin University, Perth. Inflammation. 2013 Jun;36(3):625-32..
What's the Deal?
Exercise causes muscle contractions and increased circulation, which releases myokines and cytokines — compounds that are basically the body’s built-in version of Icy Hot Muscles and their myokines. Pedersen, B.K. Centre of Inflammation and Metabolism, Rigshospitalet-Section 7641, Blegdamsvej 9, DK-2100, Copenhagen, Denmark. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 2011 Jan 15;214(Pt 2):337-46.. This process helps keep inflammation under control, allowing the body to recover and keep operating at an optimal level. But it turns out some forms of exercise — and combinations of those types — are more effective than others when it comes to triggering this response.
In a study looking at 97 overweight men and women (with a BMI of between 25 and 40), Australian researchers created four different test groups to measure exercise’s effect on inflammation Effects of chronic exercise training on inflammatory markers in Australian overweight and obese individuals in a randomized controlled trial. Ho, S.S., Dhaliwal, S.S., Hills, A.P., et al. School of Public Health, Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute, Curtin University, Perth. Inflammation. 2013 Jun;36(3):625-32.. A control group was given a placebo “dietary supplement” consisting of breadcrumbs and no-sugar sweetener. Another group performed 30 minutes of resistance training (such as leg press, bicep curls, and bench press) 5 days per week. A third group performed 30 minutes of aerobic work on a treadmill at 60 percent of their heart rate reserve (220 minus age and resting heart rate) 5 days per week. The fourth and final group performed 15 minutes each of resistance and aerobic training 5 days per week.
The aerobic group saw a decrease in TNF — an important inflammatory marker — of 20.8 percent, while the resistance group achieved a decrease of 26.9 percent. The combination group, however, brought their levels down the most with a 32.6 percent decrease. Perhaps not surprisingly, the group that ingested bread crumbs and sweetener saw no significant reductions in body inflammation.
Is It Legit?
Yep. While much of the drop in inflammation was likely caused by fat loss, combining aerobic and resistance training still produced the most dramatic decrease. More research is needed to measure other important inflammatory markers in addition to TNF, but the study provides some pretty significant evidence for incorporating both aerobic and resistance training into a fitness routine (though it's worth noting again that the testing was only done on overweight individuals). We'll take all the help we can get, since keeping inflammation in check can reduce our risks of a whole bunch of negative health conditions down the road.
Still, it’s important to remember that too much exercise can result in overtraining, which may itself cause stress and — you guessed it — excess inflammation Cytokine hypothesis of overtraining: a physiological adaptation to excessive stress? Smith, L.L. Department of Health, Leisure, and Exercise Science, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2000 Feb;32(2):317-31.. So when choosing a workout program, be careful to ease into new activity. And for the most overall health benefits, mix it up by combining both resistance training and aerobic efforts into the routine.
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