We all know that exercise is “good for us” whether it’s for weight control, heart, bone, and muscle strength, or generally reducing the risk of disease. There’s apparently one more beneficial aspect to add to the list, and that’s the anti-inflammatory effect of moderate exercise.
Whether inflammation has a positive or negative effect on the body depends solely on the situation. When it’s the immune system launching an attack on a virus, bacteria, or other pathogen, an inflammatory response is beneficial. But in the case of an autoimmune disease where the immune system triggers inflammation unnecessarily or a metabolic disease where inflammation contributes to clogs in the arteries, the inflammatory response is dangerous.
Scientists from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine enrolled 47 participants in their new study. Each individual walked on a treadmill at a speed and duration adjusted based on their own fitness level. Researchers collected blood before and immediately after the participants began walking.
"Our study found one session of about 20 minutes of moderate treadmill exercise resulted in a five percent decrease in the number of stimulated immune cells," said senior author Suzi Hong, PhD. “A workout session doesn't actually have to be intense to have anti-inflammatory effects. Twenty minutes to half-an-hour of moderate exercise, including fast walking, appears to be sufficient.”
The relationship between moderate exercise and the anti-inflammatory effect is tied to the brain and the sympathetic nervous system, which are activated during exercise. The sympathetic nervous system, also known as the “fight or flight” response, boosts heart rate, releases hormones, and raises blood pressure. Hormones bind to adrenergic receptors contained by the immune system.
"Knowing what sets regulatory mechanisms of inflammatory proteins in motion may contribute to developing new therapies for the overwhelming number of individuals with chronic inflammatory conditions, including nearly 25 million Americans who suffer from autoimmune diseases,” Hong explained. Her recent findings are promising for individuals with chronic diseases related to inflammation like arthritis, fibromyalgia, and even obesity.
"Each time we exercise, we are truly doing something good for our body on many levels, including at the immune cell level," Hong said. "The anti-inflammatory benefits of exercise have been known to researchers, but finding out how that process happens is the key to safely maximizing those benefits."
Hong’s study was recently published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.