Healing Movement: How To Soothe Chronic Inflammation with Intentional Exercise

Parsley Health
November 1, 2022

The science of movement shows that inflammation can be reduced with quick, focused workouts.

The evening walk around the neighborhood, the impromptu dance party in a friend’s living room, lying on the floor with your feet stretched toward the sky—movement is good for us, and we can feel it.

It’s no secret that the endorphins generated through movement make us happy. What you might not know is that movement can have a positive impact on chronic inflammation and heal our bodies from the inside out.

All you need is 20 minutes to make a whole-body impact.

What is inflammation?

At the highest level, inflammation is our body's response to infection. Acute inflammation occurs when you bump your knee or scrape your elbow—your immune system sends a signal to add some padding around the injury while it heals. This “padding” usually clears up quickly and doesn’t linger in the body.

Chronic inflammation , however, happens when acute inflammation settles in for a long-term stay. It can be triggered by a variety of issues, like:

  • Depression , anxiety, or mood disorders
  • Gastrointestinal ailments
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Chronic fatigue or insomnia
  • Autoimmune diseases like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Prolonged exposure to low-level irritants (like the benzene found in acetone, or nitrosamine which is found in tobacco smoke)

It’s difficult to pinpoint when your body is experiencing chronic inflammation, rather than acute inflammation, because it can take months—if not years—to heal certain injuries or illnesses. A targeted blood test can usually tell you if you’re experiencing chronic inflammation and what the cause might be, but there are ways to begin addressing it before you see a healthcare professional.

An anti-inflammatory diet is one common way to begin self-healing, but research shows that gentle, focused exercise can also make a big impact on reducing chronic inflammation.

How your body reacts to movement

Exercise helps the body on so many levels. During a workout, your brain and sympathetic nervous system are activated, contributing to a healthy heart rate and blood pressure level. Hormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine are also generated during exercise and released into the blood to create a positive impact on your immune system health by triggering adrenergic receptors, which can be found in immune cells. This process contributes to a boosted immune response which turns around and begins to target chronic inflammation.

So not only does movement improve your mental wellbeing , but it also stimulates immune system health, potentially healing some chronic inflammation. We know that finding the time (and sometimes the motivation) to exercise can feel like a chore, but prioritizing movement has health benefits that trigger other benefits.

What's the best anti-inflammatory workout?

Just minutes is all you need to trigger the healing cellular-level response that targets chronic inflammation.

Studies have shown that the intensity of your workout does not matter nearly as much as the duration. A moderately-paced walk for 20 minutes was enough to see an increase in stimulation among immune cells, according to a study done by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

Here are some other ideas for intentional, focused, and healing movement.

  • Yoga : the deep-breathing and gentle movement commonly associated with this ancient practice has been known to reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure. Great for group classes or at-home practice, yoga is one of the most accessible forms of exercise. While some might be intimidated by the range of poses (shirshasana, anyone?), there are many poses that can be done seated or in a prone position. Just focusing on your breath and stretching can be enough to generate that immune system response you’re looking for.
  • Planking: an even simpler approach is just focusing on this one pose. Planking activates several different muscle groups and relies on your own body weight to create resistance. Lying on your stomach, you can lift the body onto your forearms for more support or balance on the palms of your hands using your toes to stabilize. Holding a plank and finding your breath is a low-impact/high-reward way of getting your heart rate up and building strength.
  • Mobility exercises: helping with flexibility and balance, these types of movements can feel basic but have a deep impact on our bodies, especially over time. Foot taps, marching in place, even finding a line on the floor and pretending to walk a “tightrope” can count as a mobility exercise. Focusing the breath and refining the movements will only add to the positive impact this practice creates for your body.
  • Engaging with your space: Movement doesn’t necessarily mean “workout,” and even working up a sweat while vacuuming or gardening counts toward healing chronic inflammation. Pick a room to clean and focus on every aspect of the process, really paying attention to your actions. Intentional movement—not backbreaking work—is the way to heal, and the bonus is your space (inside or out) will look fantastic when you’re done.

A little movement goes a long way

Chronic inflammation is complicated, but not impossible to address. As a Parsley member, you’ll have access to medical team with experience treating chronic inflammation, including autoimmune symptoms it can be associated with, like Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease (or Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis ), lupus, and more.

Between our in-depth approach to understanding your whole-body health and advanced tests others don’t offer, Parsley will find the root cause of your inflammation and work with you to address it. With 88% of our members with chronic inflammation and autoimmune conditions reducing their symptoms in their first year of membership, we have the expertise to help you find relief and start feeling better.

Ready to get started? Join now or schedule a free call  to learn more about Parsley, how to use insurance , and how we can personalize your health journey.

Parsley Health

Parsley Health is the doctor that helps you live healthier, longer, by treating the root cause of symptoms and conditions. Our medical teams—staffed by leading clinicians and health coaches—spend more time with you, order the right tests, and prescribe food, sleep and movement alongside medications so you can get better—and feel better.

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