Exercise is amazing for the mind and body. It improves your mood, cognitive function, sleep, overall energy levels, and just about every aspect of your health. Studies find that 20-30 minutes of exercise can lower inflammation in your body immediately.
Yet, research also shows that intense exercise and over-training can cause injuries and systemic inflammation. To get the most from our workouts, we need to find our exercising sweet spot.
This article provides research-based tips to help you find your sweet spot when you’re exercising to improve your overall health and when you’re training hard for a big event.
Science Connects Exercise and Reduced Inflammation
In the first part of our inflammation series, we discussed how acute inflammation is your body’s natural healing response for injury and infection, yet when inflammation persists, it can trigger or contribute to many chronic illnesses.
This inflammation connection becomes more problematic as we age because our immune function decreases as we get older. We don’t heal as well or as quickly, so our chances of having low-grade inflammation is higher.
So, researchers were excited when they found that a moderate workout session like walking on a treadmill for 20 minutes has an anti-inflammatory effect at the cellular level. This research from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine is being used to develop exercise therapies for people with chronic diseases like fibromyalgia and for people with disorders that cause chronic inflammation.
Additional studies show that regular, moderate exercise can reduce age-related inflammation in people over age 64. Exercise may also lower your risk of heart disease and stroke by blocking one of the chronic inflammation pathways.
Combined, this research shows that continued, moderate exercise is great for your immune system! It also provides tips to help you find your exercising sweet spot, depending on your age, health, and athletic ability.
Tips for Finding Your Exercising Sweet Spot
Aim for a target heart rate that’s 65-80% of your maximum heart rate. The American Heart Association provides instruction and an age chart to find your resting heart rate and calculate your target heart rate in this article. This helps you monitor your heart rate during workouts.
Exercise regularly, but not necessarily every day. Rest days are important because they allow acute inflammation to heal. Every two or three days, take a rest day or do very light exercise.
Alternate cardio and strength training. If you exercise five days a week, aim for three days of cardio and two days of strength training. For most people, the sweet spot for cardio is 20-60 minutes. For strength training, high repetitions (12-20) of low weights are recommended.
Try a high-intensity interval workout. The gene SMART Study (genes and the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Training) that began in 2014 and is still underway is showing that most people benefit greatly from High-Intensity Interval Exercise (HIIE) or High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) three times a week. In a HIIT workout, you’ll typically do “intense” exercise for 20 to 40-seconds and then rest for 30 seconds. The HIIT sweet spot is usually 20-30 minutes. Keep an eye on your target heart rate!
Work with a personal trainer. Most fitness facilities have a personal trainer on staff who can help you meet your exercise goals while keeping inflammation at a minimum. They can help you make an exercise plan, learn machines, get the correct form with free weights, and find your target heart rate during cardio. You can also hire a personal trainer not associated with a gym.
Tips for Athletes Training Hard
Bodybuilding, training for a marathon, and even CrossFit workouts can cause repetitive motion injuries and chronic inflammation in the body. Athletes benefit from a training calendar with details including nutrition, hydration, stress-reduction, and a sleep schedule. In addition to the above workout tips, these pro tips can help you train hard and stay healthy.
Increase training load in small increments. Experts recommend increasing weight or distance by 10% or less weekly.
Monitor your body for signs of overtraining, injury, or illness. Olympic athletes have teams of trainers to help them, but you’ll likely need to be your own body coach.
Avoid intense training when you’re ill or have an injury. Workouts cause acute inflammation, that’s part of the process. Listen to your body and rest when you need to, even if it's not a rest day on the calendar.
Eat a well-balanced, low-inflammatory diet. Work with a dietician if possible. It’s important to give your body enough fuel for the energy you need. You will probably need more carbohydrates from grains, fruits, and vegetables. Adding polyphenols to your diet can help reduce exercise-induced inflammation and protect you from viruses. Try these anti-inflammatory foods and foods that boost your energy.
Maintain good mental health. Athletes are susceptible to increased psychological stress from training schedules, competition, team issues, and personal stressors. Research shows that stress impairs muscle recovery, slowing your healing process.
Include mental health in your training calendar, scheduling activities like yoga, meditation, visualization, massage, sleep, and possibly counseling.
Whether you are a competitive athlete or an average person exercising to improve your health, positive self-talk can improve your performance and get you though the tough days! A mantra as simple as “I can do this” can help you meet your goals.You CAN do this!