We all know stress is bad for us but do you know why? Our work and social life can all put tremendous stress on our bodies but for most of us we just push through. The problem is that constant stress has a nasty kick to it –
inflammation. Inflammation in the body starts as a protective mechanism: the body’s immune system response to an injury or a pathogen. Swelling and redness around the site of a cut, for instance, may be a sign of inflammation. Initially damaged cells secrete chemicals known as cytokines. These increase blood flow to the area and alert the rest of the body to the injury. Blood vessels dilate and release cells that effectively attack and consume any invading pathogens and later clear the debris away. This is all good news but the problem comes when inflammation, which started as a positive effect of the immune system, refuses to go away. All kinds of diseases are linked to inflammation, notably heart attacks, diabetes, dementia, respiratory disease and arthritis, so learning more about inflammation could be the key to improved health for many. Until now the scientific understanding of what causes chronic inflammation has been limited, but researchers Serhan and colleagues have found that the failure may be in a previously unknown “off switch”. It’s not so much that inflammation has a constant push to stay “on”, more that the trigger to stop may be malfunctioning. Serhan thinks this trigger comes from another set of cells called resolvins. So much in our daily life triggers inflammation – obesity, poor diet, smoking, inactivity and stress – but fortunately there are a number of things we can do that may help stimulate the release of resolvins. Regular exercise gives us benefits in two ways: it can reduce stress and gives inflammation a hard time. Low dose aspirin has some resolving-like actions and appears to kick start the resolution of inflammation. Losing excess weight is also another good way to reduce inflammation ( fat cells release inflammatory mediators). Having a diet rich in Omega-3 helps fight inflammation and, strangely, stretching your muscles seems to have a beneficial effect. Perhaps that’s why yoga is associated with so many health benefits. If you want help being more active, please get in touch.
Rachel Garrod PhD MSc is a physiotherapy lecturer and stop smoking counsellor
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