Reduce Inflammation and More: The Benefits of Exercise

When you read the list of ways that exercise improves health, it is mind-blowing. Think of it – exercise reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and heart disease. It improves cholesterol panels by increasing good cholesterol and lowering both bad cholesterol and triglycerides. Exercise reduces insulin resistance and increases how much sugar the cells take up, thereby reducing blood levels of sugar. Exercise builds bone, reduces inflammation, and improves brain function. Not only does exercise help with mood, it also improves memory. Finally (and I am certain that I have missed some positive benefit in this list), exercise improves sleep. If there was a pill that did all of that, it would be a blockbuster!

Exercise Stresses the Body – But in a Good Way

The fascinating part of all of this for me is that exercise does all of these wonderful things by stressing out the body. That’s right – exercise is a stress on the body, but one that makes the body work better. You know the song – “If it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger.” Well, lifting weights, for example, causes microscopic tears to the muscle fibers. It is in the repair of these tears that more muscle is built, thus leading to larger muscles.

Exercise Helps Curb Inflammation

With regards to inflammation, exercise is an oxidative stress, meaning that exercise actually causes inflammation because it is damaging muscle. However, by being repeatedly exposed to small bouts of increased damage and inflammation, the body learns to handle oxidative stress better and turn down these pathways of inflammation.  

Exercise Releases Endorphins

In addition, in response to the stress caused by exercise, the body is stimulated to release endorphins. Endorphins are lovely little molecules in the body that both improve mood and help the immune system function better. The end overall result is that exercise actually reduces inflammation while improving mood.

You can see how all of this improves health outcomes. By reducing inflammation, exercise reduces the risk of all of our major diseases. By improving cardiac function, exercise reduces the risk of heart disease. Causing the arteries to dilate more reduces high blood pressure. Of course, exercise reduces diabetes through burning sugar, reducing fat stores, increasing lean muscle, and reducing inflammation.  

Exercise Improves Mood

Exercise helps with mood through a few mechanisms. The increased production of endorphins helps with mood, but exercise also increases the levels of several of our neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and GABA.  

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that helps us feel joy. Dopamine helps us with focus, motivation, and drive. Norepinephrine helps us feel that we are on top of the world and can handle anything, and GABA helps us feel like life is all okay. Because serotonin is the precursor to melatonin, which is our hormone of sleep and repair, exercise also helps with sleep.  

How Much Exercise Is Enough?

It depends on what you are looking for. There are numerous studies showing that any exercise is better than none at all as far as improving mood and reducing the risk of disease.

However, in order to improve lifespan, the Prevention study showed that it was the participants who performed vigorous exercise that gained nine years of life. In the study, vigorous exercise was the equivalent of jogging 30-40 minutes 5 days per week, or 150-200 minutes per week of vigorous exercise, or longer of less vigorous exercise.

I am routinely questioned by patients who want to know how they can reduce their risk of cancer, increase their chances of having an excellent quality of life until they die, and how they can live longer. From now on the first thing I am going to recommend, even before supplements, is “exercise!”

If you have any questions about the benefits of exercise, how to reverse inflammation, or how to improve your quality of life, email and we’d be happy to help!