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Published on August 21, 2020

Dr. Kumara Sidhartha explains the surprising link between exercise and chronic inflammation

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Exercise helps with long-term diseases, but not due to reasons that you might think. Burning enough calories to lose excess body weight is not the common reason why physical activity benefits long-term health. Recent understanding of the science of exercise physiology has provided us with surprising insights. It has more to do with long-term inflammation than burning calories to lose body weight. Part of this is achieved by shrinking the visceral fat.

If you had seen my previous video about chronic inflammation, you would have realized how this long-term inflammation is at the root cause of many illnesses that we see today including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, dementia, arthritis, autoimmune diseases and more.

Among research participants who didn’t lose excess body weight through physical activity interventions, tell-tale signs of long-term inflammation decreased as long as they participated in a combination aerobic, strength, balance and flexibility training. The physical activity intervention resulted in a significant decrease in two inflammatory biomarkers in blood—Interleukin-6 and Interleukin-8, compared to the control group in the research. This effect worked better in individuals who had more long-term illnesses.

Physical activity can temporarily increase inflammation locally in the muscles that are put to work but this effect is short-lived. Done regularly, we see something counter-intuitive – it reduces longer-term inflammation regardless of weight loss from the activity. For instance, patients with heart condition were found to not only have reduced inflammation but also showed 30% improvement in efficiency of using oxygen for the physical activity they were increasing.

Combination is Key When it Comes to Exercise

To help decrease long-term inflammation, aim to incorporate these four forms of exercise into your exercise routine:

Balance and Flexibility: Simple stretching, yoga, tai chi can all be helpful to improve balance and flexibility.

Strength: Resistance training with simple weights and repetitions of movement can maintain or gain muscle mass. This helps with avoiding or managing diabetes and improving bone mass and proving stability with less risk for falls. Use these safety tips when attempting resistance training.

Aerobics: Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of brisk activity for three times a week and then build on more from there, aiming for five times a week (example: brisk walk or biking that makes you sweat.) Incrementally increasing duration and frequency of these activities can build endurance by powering up the mitochondrial powerhouses in every cell in the human body (endurance training.) If energy is a currency for our cells, then mitochondria in the cells are like the ATM machines for that energy. Endurance and aerobic training keep refilling these ATM machines so that they don’t go empty.

Putting it into Practice

This year’s virtual HPHP 5K Run|Walk and 10-Mile Ride, a culminating event in our employee wellness program, is a great way to get moving! Train and register for this annual race coming up September 18-20.

Wellness wise balance

Just get Moving!

You don't need a gym or special equipment, just get moving! If we sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, we gain some health benefits.

Wellness wise recipe

Mo's Longevity SmoothieCool, green and chock full of nutrients, Mo’s Longevity Smoothie is the perfect post-workout reward!