It was 10 years ago that inflammation made the cover of Time magazine. Bold, frightening letters jumped off the page announcing the link between inflammation and heart attacks, cancer and Alzheimer's.
We've learned a few things since then. Yes, inflammation hangs out with a rough crowd. But it's not all bad. Inflammation is the body's natural response and a way for you to heal yourself. If you burn your hand, there's redness and swelling. When you get a sore throat or fever, your body is fighting an invader. That is the proper, acute inflammation process at work.
It is chronic inflammation that's the trouble maker. This type of inflammation can wreak havoc on your health and cause premature aging. It's like you consistently irritate the same area and your body never gets the upper hand.
Let's see if I can paint a picture: Someone punches you hard on the shoulder. There will be some swelling and redness. And you won't be able to use your shoulder normally for a while. What if you got punched on the shoulder every day? You would get a permanent dysfunctional shoulder. Your unhealthy lifestyle choices are like that punch on the shoulder. Too much fat stored around the waist line is an express lane to inflammation. Long periods of sitting will have the same consequence.
Luckily, you are not powerless. You can prevent this fate with the help of a surprising anti-inflammatory agent. It's not a pill or a designer supplement. Every single person has easy access to it. So what could it be? It's your muscular system! You thought that muscles were just for movement and caloric burn. Well there's a new muscle function in town.
How do muscles prevent inflammation?
Glad you asked. We recently learned that muscles can secrete hormone-like compounds called myokines. Dr. B.K. Pedersen from the Centre of Inflammation and Metabolism in Copenhagen published a review of myokines in 2012. She wanted to confirm that the link between inactivity and disease was those myokines.
Some of them have a direct effect on the muscle. Others are released in the blood and travel to other tissues. That's how your muscles will spread the good news that it is time to shape up.
Some of the effects include:
- Stronger bones
- More supple blood vessels
- Fat cells that release more fat for fuel
- Reduced growth of tumours
How do I begin?
One word: contraction. Yes my friends, you just need to use your muscles. This wonderful system is activated by movement. Any movement counts. Make an effort to break out of the inactive routine our society has embraced. Take the stairs. Walk to a co-worker's desk. Get off the subway early. Your body is built for movement. Don't let it collect dust. Put it to good use.
Every time you squeeze those muscles, they send a positive signal to your entire body. Every step counts.
I'll leave you with this quote from the Greek physician Hippocrates, father of modern medicine: "All parts of the body, if used in moderation and exercised in labours to which each is accustomed, become thereby healthy and well developed and age slowly; but if they are unused and left idle, they become liable to disease, defective in growth and age quickly."
So get moving today and make chronic inflammation a thing of the past.
Gilles Beaudin is a registered clinical exercise physiologist at Cleveland Clinic Canada.