Inflammation is notorious health villain. New research shows that simple strategies after a workout can help to reap benefits of it - build muscle, boost immunity, and fight stress.
Researchers have recently discovered that inflammation can actually make us healthier. It has powerful healing effects and is a critical component of the immune system. It is necessary to generate muscle and heal from injuries.
Inflammation and training
Whenever you train, you’re creating mini-traumas in your muscles. That triggers inﬂammation, which prompts the release of chemicals and hormones to repair the affected tissue and leads to stronger muscle ﬁbers.
Bones also beneﬁt. The load placed on your bones during strength training creates tiny divots in their weak areas, and inﬂammation kicks off a process that ﬁlls in those spots with new, stronger bone.
Inﬂammation is also crucial to recovering from an injury. After an injury white blood cells move to the injury site. They assess the damage and fire up clusters of molecules known as inflammasomes, which activate small proteins that make the injury site turn red and swell. These inflammatory symptoms draw immune cells to the area to begin the healing process.
Preliminary animal studies show that workout-induced inflammation may even cause the immune system to operate more efficiently. That means inflammation created by exercise could potentially help to fight colds. But the inflammation process is complicated and healthy only in moderation. When inflammation is at a high level all the time, it creates chronic wear and tear on healthy tissues and organs.
Carrying excess weight, not getting enough rest, or exercising too much all can cause the good inflammatory response to veer into the danger zone. Keeping it at a balanced level is the key to reaping the benefits of postexercise inflammation.
How to control inflamation
The following techniques help to use inflammation without allowing it to go out of control:
- After a tough workout, take a walk, do some light yoga, or use a foam roller.
After exercise, muscles leak out a protein called creatine kinase, which kidneys need to filter from the blood. If you sit still, the damaged proteins accumulate, and this may result in more inflammatory-control cells coming into the area and delaying recovery. By moving your muscles, you increase blood flow to those areas and help flush out the waste products so your body can repair itself.
- When the soreness after a workout is intense, you may be tempted to pop ibuprofen. Don’t. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) prevent normal exercise induced inflammation from occurring, which could keep your body from building and strengthening your muscles.
Researchers found that NSAIDs interfere with bone rebuilding, leaving you vulnerable to stress fractures and osteoporosis.
- Follow every superintense workout with an easy or rest day. Exercise creates free radicals, unstable molecules that damage cells. Normally, the body releases antioxidants to neutralize those molecules, but if you keep pushing yourself to the limit day after day, the free radicals overwhelm your body’s defenses, creating a condition known as oxidative stress. This causes harmful chronic inflammation, which tears down muscles rather than building them up.
Watch out for symptoms like plummeting endurance, strength, energy, and motivation, and irritability, frequent illness, and trouble sleeping. These are all signs that you should take at least two full days off, then decrease the load by 30 to 40 percent for the next two or three weeks in order to recover.
Joanne Donoghue, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine
Maria Urso, Ph.D., a human performance consultant with 02X, awellness education company
Wajahat Zafar Mehal, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine
Charles Raison, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health