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Inflammation and Exercise

We know exercise is good for us, and there are many reasons why. BodyActive Naturopath and Nutritionist Kris Jasper explains how the intensity of exercise influences inflammation in the body. Kris writes with a particular emphasis on what physical activity might be best for chronic disease.

Exercising regularly is shown to reduce blood markers of chronic and systemic inflammation, specifically the inflammatory mediator known as tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) (Viana et al., 2014). High levels of TNF-alpha are correlated with chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ When we start moving, our muscle cells release a protein called Interleukin-6 (IL-6). IL-6 can either lower or increase TNF-alpha, producing an anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory response (Ellingsgaard, Hojman & Pedersen, 2019).⁣⁣⁣

Whether an anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory response occurs depends on the type of exercise as well as the duration of time spent doing it.

30 minutes of gentle or moderate exercise (if you can handle it) such as walking/ power walking, jogging, Pilates, swimming, yoga (hatha or Kundalini not bikram), Tai Chi, isometric exercises and rebounding can assist with reducing systemic inflammation. ⁣⁣This kind of exercise for 30 minutes daily increases IL-6 (our inflammation marker) five fold to anti-inflammatory levels (Knudsen, 2015).⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣

Exercise over 30 minutes and of vigorous intensity can increase IL-6 to pro-inflammatory levels, increasing TNF-alpha. Marathon running increases the marker 100 fold (Ellingsgaard et al., 2019).⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣

Choosing the right kind of exercise with a shorter time frame has the potential to produce anti-inflammatory effects and lower chronic inflammation. ⁣⁣

  • Ellingsgaard, H., Hojman, P., & Pedersen, B. K. (2019). Exercise and Health–emerging roles of IL-6. Current Opinion in Physiology, 10, 49–54.

  • Knudsen, J. G., Bertholdt, L., Joensen, E., Lassen, S. B., Hidalgo, J., & Pilegaard, H. (2015). Skeletal muscle interleukin‐6 regulates metabolic factors in i WAT during HFD and exercise training. Obesity, 23(8), 1616-1624.

  • Viana, J. L., Kosmadakis, G. C., Watson, E. L., Bevington, A., Feehally, J., Bishop, N. C., & Smith, A. C. (2014). Evidence for anti-inflammatory effects of exercise in CKD. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 25(9), 2121-2130.


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