Tag Archives: inflammation

Upper body exercise versus lower body in terms of inflammation

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Like a lot of fitness fanatics, I do a lot of reading. I am always looking for new information to help me and my readers and friends improve their athletic performance and overall health. One area in particular I love exploring are the differences between upper body exercise and lower body exercise.

So I was very excited when I found this- The inflammatory response to upper and lower limb exercise and the effects of exercise training in patients with claudication.I have cited some studies that contrast upper body with lower body exercise before, but they weren’t about the amount of inflammation in response to upper body versus lower body exercise. I’ve been curious about this for some time. To make the long story short, inflammation can be a good thing at a moderate level, while chronic inflammation is associated with, and may play a role in causing many serious diseases.

Too much inflammation may also hinder exercise recovery and performance. The study I mentioned above, from the University of Sheffield, U.K is of particular interest since it found that:

RESULTS:

An acute bout of sustained lower limb exercise significantly increased the intensity of CD11b and CD66b(these are markers for inflammation) expression by peripheral blood neutrophils in all groups, whereas upper limb exercise had no effect. Resting neutrophil expression of CD11b and CD66b and circulating von Willebrand factor levels were unaffected by the training program, as were the inflammatory responses to an acute bout of sustained upper and lower limb muscular work, despite the fact that both training programs significantly increased walking distances.

CONCLUSIONS:

These findings indicate that upper limb exercise training programs may offer certain advantages over currently prescribed lower limb programs. Our results show that exercising nonischemic muscles in a way that promotes improved cardiorespiratory function and walking capacity can avoid the potentially deleterious systemic inflammatory responses associated with lower limb exertion in patients with stable intermittent claudication.

(Bold is mine)

So in essence, the lesson here is that lower body exercise produces a lot of inflammation, while upper body produces none(based on the specific markers used). This makes sense in a way since lower body exercise is generally weight-bearing, compared to most upper body exercise, and the leg muscles are generally larger. This isn’t really that surprising.

So upper body cardio probably wouldn’t be as exhausting, obviously. And as far as joggling is concerned, most of the inflammation is due to the running(most of the effort/calories burned is due to the running), not the juggling, so if you are afraid that adding juggling to your running will be problematic for you, there is little reason to be concerned.

Unlike regular running, joggling helps improve posture and coordination, with little to no drawbacks.

Exercise recovery is just a bowl of cherries

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

The delicious spring weather has just been so perfect these days, allowing me to push myself to run faster while juggling 3 balls, as well as slowly improving my 4 ball joggling. All this speed means more strain on my muscles and connective tissues, so I am always on the lookout for something or other to maximize my recovery. Juggling while running for an hour or more can produce a lot of inflammation throughout the body, which can damage muscle tissue and hinder the body’s innate healing response. All else being equal, a joggler is likely more inflammed and worn out than a mere runner so we need to be a little more careful to ensure proper recovery.

I’ll assume we all know to get enough water before, during, and after a workout, as well as refueling with carbs and protein within 30 minutes after exercise. I usually drink a lot of fruit juice after long runs, along with some nuts or protein powder or will simply have a meal if its meal time. I’ve long believed that the phytochemicals in various fruit and vegetable juices can assist in recovery, due to their ability to protect tissues from inflammatory processes and free radicals. This is partially due to their antioxidant effects, but as I’ve said in previous posts, a lot more is going on. So to me, recovery has long been more than simply getting macro-nutrients, electrolytes, and proper hydration.

Which brings us to cherry juice. Some interesting studies on cherry juice suggest it may help speed recovery from both marathon running and strength training. According to the School of Psychology and Sport Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, in their study, the Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running:

The cherry juice appears to provide a viable means to aid recovery following strenuous exercise by increasing total antioxidative capacity, reducing inflammation, lipid peroxidation and so aiding in the recovery of muscle function.

This sounds good enough to the point that I may drink cherry juice more often after workouts. Now I realize it’s good to be skeptical and cherry juice may not work for everyone, and maybe the study is flawed, but this is just cherry juice, so there is little risk involved. I’m also very curious to see if it will do anything for me. Even if it doesn’t, I love tartness.

Here’s a study on Montmorency cherries from the Sports and Exercise Science Research Centre, London South Bank University, London, United Kingdom, Montmorency cherry juice reduces muscle damage caused by intensive strength exercise:

Montmorency cherries contain high levels of polyphenolic compounds including flavonoids and anthocyanins possessing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. We investigated whether the effects of intensive unilateral leg exercise on oxidative damage and muscle function were attenuated by consumption of a Montmorency cherry juice concentrate using a crossover experimental design.

CONCLUSIONS:

Montmorency cherry juice consumption improved the recovery of isometric muscle strength after intensive exercise perhaps owing to the attenuation of the oxidative damage induced by the damaging exercise.

Now that’s some juice! This isn’t very surprising, since we all know fruit has a lot of health-promoting compounds. These flavonoids occur in many different fruits, so it is possible that you can get similar benefits from eating or drinking other fruits. For example, peaches and plums are very closely related to cherries, so they may have similar benefits. Blueberries are also loaded with potent flavonoids, though they are not related to cherries.

So grab some fruit or fruit juice after a long strenuous workout, especially the dark colorful ones like cherries or blueberries. Also make sure you get enough protein(I often eat a lot of almonds after workouts) and water. Faster, more complete recovery means being able to exercise on a more consistent basis. Outside of exercise recovery, go easy on sugary fruit juices. They’re okay after exercise because that’s when your muscles need to replenish their glucose.

Do it right, and exercise can be a bowl of cherries.

Prolotherapy and knee injuries

If you are a serious runner, it is inevitable that you will either get injured or at least experience soreness from time to time. It happens to even the best of us. The most important thing you can do about injuries is do what you can to prevent them in the first place. Basically, don’t overdo it. Pain is your body’s way of telling you you are overdoing it. Also, strength-train your legs twice a week with ankle weights or resistance bands. Weak muscles may increase your risk of injury, besides preventing you from performing at your best.

Gray348

The knee. Source – Wikipedia/Gray’s Anatomy

The knees of a runner are especially vulnerable to injury. After running a marathon, many if not most of the runners experience at least some knee soreness, and a significant number will injure or re-injure their knees.

Injuries to the knee may involve the cartilage(meniscii), ligaments, or both. The meniscii in the knees serve as cushioning to absorb shocks and allow for smooth motion within the joint. Ligament is tissue that connects bone to bone. ACL(anterior cruciate ligament) injuries are notoriously common among football players, as well as runners.

Minor ACL injuries can sometimes heal without surgery if physical therapy is undertaken. All too many athletes unfortunately can’t return to sport even after reconstructive ACL surgery.

Serious injuries to knee cartilage often require surgery too. These types of injuries seldom heal at all or may heal very slowly, depending on the age of the athlete. This is because knee cartilage receives very little blood flow to help it heal.

Prolotherapy is sometimes suggested as an “alternative” to surgery for knee and other injuries. At its most basic, it involves injecting an inflammatory agent(often dextrose, which is just another way to say glucose) into the injured area to bring about an inflammatory healing response. So if you hate needles, it may not be for you.

When it comes to prolotherapy and ACL injury, it shows some promise. According to the Department of Biometry, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, U.S:

In patients with symptomatic anterior cruciate ligament laxity, intermittent dextrose injection resulted in clinically and statistically significant improvement in ACL laxity, pain, swelling, and knee range of motion.

When it comes to prolotherapy and osteoarthritis(which is similar to “runner’s knee”), the Bethany Medical Center, Kansas City, reports that:

Prolotherapy injection with 10% dextrose resulted in clinically and statistically significant improvements in knee osteoarthritis. Preliminary blinded radiographic readings (1-year films, with 3-year total follow-up period planned) demonstrated improvement in several measures of osteoarthritis severity. ACL laxity, when present in these osteoarthritic patients, improved.

Prolotherapy still isn’t very widely available and is still getting investigated. Insurance providers seldom if ever cover this procedure. It has been studied for use in treating injuries in other parts of the body, with mixed to mostly negative results.

I’ve injured my knees in the past, but luckily they were all minor.

The effects of air pollution on exercise

How air pollution affects exercise performance doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. It is a rather complex subject, although it seems rather intuitive that the more polluted the air, the worse it is for exercise. Although air pollution is everywhere, it is far worse in urban centers, with most of it coming from vehicle exhaust.

On this issue, it appears that science agrees with our intuition. According to this study – Subclinical Effects of Aerobic Training in Urban Environment, which compared people trying to improve their aerobic fitness in urban and rural settings, both groups became equally fit, though reaction times were better in rural settings and the urban exercisers had significantly higher levels of inflammation markers(exercise even in a non-polluted area can cause inflammation, it’s just worse in polluted areas).

I don’t believe the lesson to be learned from this is to not exercise if you live in a polluted area, unless you have respiratory disease, but rather to be more cautious or try to seek out an area with cleaner air to exercise if possible.

Also, I think it could be possible to prevent the inflammation caused by pollution by eating better. Some foods have a pro-inflammatory effect, like food with a high saturated fat content, as well as fried, roasted and overly processed foods. On the other hand, many fresh fruits and vegetables either have a neutral effect on inflammation or can help prevent it from getting out of control. Curcumin, a natural compound which is found in turmeric(an important ingredient in curry), has potent anti-inflammatory effects. Ginger, a close cousin of turmeric has similar benefits. Leafy greens may also help. Try to get all this from food, not supplements.

Besides this, if you are a runner living in an urban environment, try to stay far away from highways or areas with heavy traffic when running. In my personal experience, it seems that I’ve had to apply more effort when running in polluted areas than in non-polluted areas to achieve my usual pace. Also, the study I cited seems to suggest that air pollution would have more of an effect on jogglers than runners, since air pollution interferes with reaction rates/cognition during aerobic exercise. In my experience, I am more likely to drop the balls in polluted areas.

Do not let this discourage you from exercise, unless you have medical issues.