Tame The Flame

In­flam­ma­tion is not all bad

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

Af­ter you fin­ish a run, white blood cells rush bio­chem­i­cals to your legs, where they re­build your ex­hausted mus­cles. This process can last from a few hours to a few days, depend­ing on the dam­age in­curred. Dur­ing this time, you may feel fa­tigued, achy and sore: that’s your nerves send­ing pain sig­nals to your brain to let you know your mus­cles need a break. You may also no­tice slight swelling, be­cause flu­ids car­ry­ing heal­ing nu­tri­ents can ex­pand tis­sue. All of this is a healthy phys­i­cal re­sponse known as in­flam­ma­tion. Or, more pre­cisely, acute in­flam­ma­tion, which is the im­me­di­ate and short-lived re­ac­tion to a dis­tinct event.

If you take it easy and fuel prop­erly dur­ing this cru­cial pe­riod of re­pair, your body will re­turn to nor­mal. Bet­ter than nor­mal, ac­tu­ally. Your mus­cles will adapt to the stress so they be­come stronger.

But if you dis­rupt this heal­ing process on a reg­u­lar ba­sis – for ex­am­ple, you skip rest days and do back-to-back hard ses­sions – you could put your body in a state of chronic in­flam­ma­tion, says Dr Inigo San Mil­lan, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of phys­i­cal medicine and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion at the Univer­sity of Colorado School of Medicine, US. And that’s not where you want to be.

Chronic in­flam­ma­tion oc­curs when the body is placed un­der con­stant phys­i­cal and/or psy­cho­log­i­cal stress. Un­like acute in­flam­ma­tion, which pro­motes re­cov­ery in one part of the body and re­solves quickly, chronic in­flam­ma­tion

is per­va­sive and on­go­ing. The bio­chem­i­cals that should re­pair your mus­cles do the op­po­site – they de­stroy tis­sue and cause cells to mal­func­tion, says San Mil­lan. This can ac­cel­er­ate the body’s age­ing process and in­crease your risk of in­juries, arthritis and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease. ‘The dose and du­ra­tion makes the poi­son,’ says San Mil­lan, mean­ing that a lit­tle in­flam­ma­tion for a short pe­riod can be good, but a lot for a long pe­riod can be harm­ful.

Run­ners, in par­tic­u­lar, need to be aware of the dan­gers of chronic in­flam­ma­tion be­cause ec­cen­tric mus­cle con­trac­tions, (the kind that oc­cur when you run) trig­ger a height­ened in­flam­ma­tory re­sponse. If you tend to log high mileage through­out the year, San Mil­lan rec­om­mends get­ting med­i­cal ad­vice on the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing blood tests. El­e­vated lev­els of cer­tain biomark­ers can be an in­di­ca­tion of chronic in­flam­ma­tion.

Of course, high mileage is tricky to de­fine. Ev­ery­one has their own thresh­old for how much their body can han­dle; one run­ner’s peak week might be an­other’s re­cov­ery week. And your own base­line ebbs and flows through­out your run­ning life. When you’re in top shape, you may be able to surge be­yond your nor­mal lim­its. At other times, the same train­ing vol­ume could leave you feel­ing crushed . This is com­mon as ath­letes get older; re­cov­ery be­comes more im­por­tant as the years go by.

Be­ing aware of all of this and ad­just­ing your train­ing ac­cord­ingly is crit­i­cal, says Dr Trent Stelling­w­erff, head of in­no­va­tion and re­search for the Cana­dian Sport In­sti­tute. That means train­ing plans that don’t over­tax the body and that in­clude re­cov­ery. ‘The low­est lev­els of chronic in­flam­ma­tion you’ll find are in those ath­letes who are fol­low­ing a smart sys­tem that in­volves ex­er­cis­ing be­tween 45 and 90 min­utes a day, eat­ing right and sleep­ing well,’ says Stelling­w­erff.

On the other hand, run­ners who go hard but don’t re­cover prop­erly are more sus­cep­ti­ble to chronic in­flam­ma­tion. If you ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fi­culty sleep­ing, night sweats, el­e­vated heart rate upon wak­ing, in­creased mus­cle sore­ness, gen­eral fa­tigue and burnout, you should scale back to re­duce your risk and help you have a health­ier, hap­pier and longer run­ning life.

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