I missed my workout this morning, and that makes seven years in a row for me – but man, when I used to go to the gym, I remember there were a few days when I limped out into the parking lot with some pretty sore, strained muscles.
Did you ever stop to wonder how your body reacts when you lift a little too much or do too many reps, or when you run that extra mile you shouldn’t have, or when you try out that new yoga move that looked easy when you Googled it, but turned out to be more of a stretch than you imagined?
Your body responds to all of those overworked, overstretched situation with the Bad Boy of Ouch himself, inflammation.
So, what does happen to your body when you go too fast or too far on your morning run without a good warm-up stretch in advance? Or when you pitched too many innings on the company softball league last weekend? A little redness perhaps? Some pain, definitely. Maybe your muscles feel warmer or hotter than usual.
All of those things are your body’s natural response to insult, overwork or injury. All of those things go by that overused, overheard, wayyyy over-marketed word, inflammation.
Coaching from the Sidelines
Anytime you say “ouch” out loud, your body reacts. Watch a football player rub his arm or leg muscles after a long running game. His body is actually thinking, “Hey, something hurts. And if something hurts, we need an immune response. His vascular system and his immune system spring into action to check things out.
When your body detects the unpleasant stimuli of overuse or overexertion, it immediately calls in plays from the sidelines, sending plasma and leukocytes from the blood to the overexerted tissues. The inflammation response is simply a natural, protective response of the body to show up, call a time out, check in on all the players on the field (your cells), and start preparing them for another play. Game on.
We hear so many negative things about inflammation, we need to stop and remind ourselves that it’s all a natural part of our body’s innate function and has real and important protective purposes.
Take the occasional pimple for instance. Call it “zit logic.” A raised blemish on your skin is an example of a natural inflammation response in your body where unwanted debris has been isolated for removal. It’s simply a part of our body’s important clean-up crew. It’s a case where inflammation is a necessary part of our wellness.
Take Some Quiet Time
For years, believers in meditation, yoga, deep-breathing and massage will tell you that finding time to relax and de-stress is one of their best ways to keep the body in a state of even balance. Regular exercise (sans regular strain) is a key part of overall wellness and inflammation response too.
When it comes to food, suggestions for supporting a healthy inflammatory response from overuse and overexertion seem to change with every new magazine article and blog. Everything from probiotics to protein. Basic greens, no refined sugars, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and a host of spices have all had their moment in the spotlight.
Master chefs and herbalists swear by Ginger, Rosemary, Turmeric and Oregano as top choices to support everything from good digestion to healthy inflammation response caused by overuse and overexertion. Ayurveda favored Ashwagandha, Boswellia and Greater Galangal. And it’s always interesting to watch the debate on oils continue to evolve, from palm oil to coconut oil. No trans fats seems to be the common consensus.
Watch the Sweets, Sugar
Two things are certain. If our bodily responses are kicked into high gear because of too much sugar and occasional stress, we need to find new ways to curtail and counter both.
For occasional stress, talk and walk. Vent with a friend. Hike a trail. Go outside, grab some fresh air and read a book. Eat healthier. Exercise more, and do it more regularly. De-clutter. Take an inventory of your life and get rid of the things that perplex and annoy you. Get more sleep, and after you do that? Get even more sleep.
Lose the white flour breads and pastas in favor of whole grains, deep green veggies and fresh organic fruits. Can the soda. Drink plenty of pure, fresh water instead.
Occasional stress and too much sugar aren’t instantly easy to remove from our host of habits, but even with small steps in dedication and attentiveness, you’ll find ways to benefit your present health and far-off future.
Too Much? Enough Already
Most importantly, remember the mantra, “some is good, too much is not.” Sprinkle a little pepper in your soup and it’s warming and good. Eat a teaspoon at a time and your eyes bug out and you’ll snort like a bull.
Same with your exercise routine and the way that you eat. Too much junk? Too much of pushing your body too far? That’s where inflammation begins.
There’s a good side and a bad side to everything. Inflammation is a normal and necessary bodily response. It’s built into us for a reason. But when it’s overworked and overreactive, take a few of the simple steps above to put yourself in a better position to keep both your body and your world in balance.
Without the sensible, proactive participation in the course of your own wellness, you’ll just keep limping from the gym.
And we’re the last ones who want to hear you say “ouch” on our watch.