Anything that damages tissue can cause inflammation, such as smoking, high cholesterol or hypertension. When a germ gets into your body, your immunity produces proteins called antibodies, white blood cells and cytokines that kill germs. However, as soon as the germ is gone, your immunity is supposed to shut down. If it doesn't shut down, these same factors attack and destroy your body tissues; this is called inflammation. Inflammation increases risk for heart attacks, strokes, certain cancers, and diabetes and even worsens diseases such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma.
Many scientists have expressed concern that hard exercise damages muscles, so it may turn on inflammation and harm you. However, a study from Verona, Italy shows that hard exercise does not cause inflammation (Journal of the Canadian Medical Association, October 25, 2005). It measured C reactive protein, a blood test that indicates inflammation, and showed that there was no difference in levels in sedentary people, those who cycle for fitness, competitive professional bicycle racers and international-class cross country skiers. So muscle damage from hard exercise does not increase inflammation.
We know that regular exercise helps to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Researchers at Michigan State recently showed that high-intensity exercise may prevent these diseases more effectively than low intensity exercise (Thrombosis Research, August 2006).
Most heart attacks and strokes occur when plaques lining the arteries break off and pass down the artery to form a clot that completely blocks the flow of blood to the heart or brain. Intense exercise helped prevent clotting by increasing tissue plasminogen activator and plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 far more than low-intensity exercise did. Other studies show that vigorous exercise also more effective in helping people lose weight. However, vigorous exercise can precipitate heart attacks and strokes, so it’s a good idea to get a stress electrocardiogram before you start a new exercise program or increase the intensity of your current regimen. If your doctor agrees, gradually work up to the point where you can increase the intensity of your workouts once or twice a week.
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Dr. Gabe Mirkin has been a radio talk show host for 25 years and practicing physician for more than 40 years; he is board certified in four specialties, including sports medicine. Read or listen to hundreds of his fitness and health reports - and the FREE Good Food Book - at http://www.DrMirkin.com