It is with some interest that I watch the ongoing exploration of the biochemistry of exercise. Alongside calorie restriction, we all know that exercise is just about the most cost-effective thing you can presently do for your long term health - study after study demonstrates that fact. So how does this all work? Calorie restriction biochemistry gets all the press these days, with the high level of venture capital invested into developing drugs based on new knowledge, but the biochemistry of exercise is just as much under the microscope - and just as likely to produce meaningful results.
I bumped into one example today - research into the poorly understood link between exercise and reduced inflammation:
recent study by kinesiology and community health researchers at the University of Illinois provides new evidence that may help explain some of the underlying biological mechanisms that take place as the result of regular exercise. According to the researchers, that knowledge could potentially lead to a better understanding of the relationship between exercise and inflammation.
The objective of their research was to examine the independent effect of parasympathetic tone - in this case, determined by assessing heart-rate recovery after exercise - on circulating levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). Parasympathetic tone and its inverse function - sympathetic tone - are components of the autonomic nervous system. CRP, which is secreted by the liver, circulates in the bloodstream and is a biomarker for inflammation in the body.
“We’ve known that as people age, their CRP levels go up,” Vieira said. “That’s one of the reasons why older individuals are more prone to develop inflammation-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. So we just wanted to look at what’s predicting those levels of CRP in an average older population that is relatively healthy.”
Perhaps the most notable result of the study, according to the researchers, relates to heart-rate recovery following exercise.
“The quicker the individuals were able to get back to their resting heart rate after a strenuous exercise test was inversely related to their CRP,” Vieira said. “In other words, individuals who had better parasympathetic tone had lower levels of inflammation.
“And the reason we’re excited about this is that exercise is a great way to improve parasympathetic tone.
“We know inflammation is bad. We know it increases as we age, with stress and other things,” she said. “So if we can decrease that to protect ourselves somehow by just adopting a physically active lifestyle, that’s definitely an advantage.”
And while the study confirms the conclusions of previous research by others indicating that high body fat is related to high inflammation and high fitness to low inflammation, “the unique part of this paper is that controlling for those, we also show that high parasympathetic tone is related to low inflammation,” Woods said.
If you want a better chance of being alive and in good health to take advantage of breakthroughs in longevity science in the decades ahead, best to put reasonable effort into maintaining your health today. Don't expect medicine to rescue you from the consequences of negligence - maybe you'll get lucky, but why gamble away potential decades (or far more) of additional healthy life when it is so easy to take care of yourself?