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What is Chronic Inflammation – causes and treatment?

It can be difficult to figure what your body needs exactly, and even then – it changes often. Figuring out these needs can be even more complicated for people that struggle with symptoms of chronic inflammation.  Fatigue, achy muscles, skin conditions, gastrointestinal issues, insomnia, and weight fluctuations are all signs that you may be experiencing chronic inflammation.  At the same time, you want to look and feel your best – and you deserve to. When you’re dealing with uncomfortable symptoms, it can be difficult to figure out what’s helping, and what might be hurting.  Does working out impact chronic inflammation, and the bigger question – can it cause or worsen it? Let’s look at how to balance exercise with chronic inflammation. 

What is Chronic Inflammation?

Chronic inflammation isn’t a condition in itself. Instead, it’s a symptom of an underlying condition that can lead to other symptoms. So what is chronic inflammation? Chronic inflammation is slow, long-term inflammation that lasts several months or even years. It’s caused by a few main culprits – injury or physical trauma, foreign pathogens, or a chronic disease. Inflammation is a natural part of being alive and healing. It is the immune systems’ way of recognizing and removing harmful stimuli so that it can heal from infections, viruses, and more. It can also be caused by tissue damage or trauma. 

Chronic inflammation that’s caused by an underlying condition is most commonly due to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, allergies, arthritis, and other joint diseases. Many of these diseases are caused by or worsen as you get older. Exercise can play such an important role in counteracting these effects as you age. Working out with chronic inflammation is a double-edged sword. It can be difficult to move your body when you’re feeling uncomfortable or are in pain, even though it helps. At the same time, could it also potentially worsen your symptoms?

Managing Chronic Inflammation and Exercise

Physical activity is crucial for a healthy body and mind. One study from the University of California San Diego found that just one session of moderate exercise can act as an anti-inflammatory. They found that in a twenty-minute session of moderate exercise on a treadmill, participants experienced a 5% decrease in immune cell response. When you work out, the body creates an inflammatory response that causes leukocytes, or white blood cells, to move around in the body. The brain and sympathetic nervous system are activated during exercise. The hormones that are released during exercise triggers immune cells to respond. Other signs of inflammation produced by immune cells and muscle tissues also start to circulate. Workouts that can cause the most inflammation are higher intensity ones like HIIT, Crossfit, long-distance running and cycling, and powerlifting. A little bit of inflammation in the body helps to build muscle and boost your immune response – hence why you feel sore after a challenging workout. Too much of course can have detrimental effects. 

Overall, intense, long exercise can lead to higher levels of inflammation, which can lead to chronic inflammation, while increasing the risk of injury. That’s not to say don’t work out, just be sure to give yourself periods of rest and recovery. 

What Workouts to Do

If this information is getting your wheels turning, you’re probably wondering what workouts you should be doing. Unfortunately, there’s no one answer, but there are things you can do to help you figure it out. Exercise shouldn’t be intimidating, although it certainly can feel like that, especially if you have a condition that causes chronic inflammation. When it comes to working out with chronic inflammation, what’s most important is balance. While moderate exercise is important for managing symptoms, prolonged high-intensity exercise may make them worse.  Try tracking in a journal or health app how you feel a day or two after different workouts to see if you notice a difference in your energy levels or any pain you experience. You may want to try more gentle forms of exercise like brisk walking, pilates, and yoga. If you menstruate, try planning your workouts around your cycle so that you can exercise according to where your hormones are at.  No matter what your exercise routine is, it’s also important to prioritize rest. Rest is the place where the body can recover, especially if you’re healing from an injury or chronic condition. 

While it’s important to think about, exercise probably isn’t the most important factor when it comes to reducing chronic inflammation. Other risk factors that can increase your risk of having chronic inflammation are smoking, obesity, being older, poor diet, stress, and hormone imbalances.  If you’re experiencing chronic inflammation as a result of an underlying condition, it’s important to discuss treatment plans with your healthcare provider or a specialist. They will be able to guide you in the right direction so that you can find the right workout plan for your needs.

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