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Exercise and Inflammation: What’s the Link?

Did you know that 20 minutes of vacuuming is like walking one mile? Or that 10 minutes of stretching is like walking the length of a football field?

Exercise is not just running, weightlifting or mountain climbing. No matter what you are doing, making the effort to move more throughout the day will benefit your body and mind, leading to better health.

Have you ever heard that exercise makes you happy?

Experts say that a link exists between physical activity and happy feelings, whether it’s while exercising or it’s some aftereffect that leads to an improved mood. According to the American Heart Association, exercise or “physical activity” is not only a mood lifter, but it also reduces stress on the body overall.

What is inflammation and how does exercise benefit our health?

Inflammation occurs when the body is under some level of stress. This could include an infection, trauma, injuries or diseases. Prolonged inflammation is one of the major contributors in the development of many chronic (long-term) diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, sarcopenia (muscle wasting disease), arthritis and depression.

Many studies have been conducted to determine if exercise reduces inflammation in the body and prevents or treats chronic diseases. Being more active thoughout the week can prevent disease and improve health by:

-          Lowering blood pressure

-          Boosting levels of the “good” cholesterol our body needs

-          Improving blood flow throughout the body

-          Keeping weight under control

-          Preventing bone loss (seen in osteoporosis)

How does exercise reduce inflammation?

Exercise reduces inflammation in the body by reducing the presence of inflammatory substances such as a protein called CRP or C-reactive protein. This protein increases when inflammation occurs in the body and can be measured by a blood test.

Chronic disease development normally is preceded by an increased level of CRP. Many studies have established a relationship between exercise and inflammation, and the results seemed to depend on factors such as:

-          Age

-          Weight

-          Presence of a disease

-          Type and intensity of activity

For example, obese patients or those with a disease (for example, heart disease) had a reduced level of inflammation in their body after they began exercising regularly. The exercise not only reduced the level of CRP protein in their body, but it helped them lose weight, which reduced the level of inflammation even further.

What type of exercise will reduce inflammation?

Any physical activity will promote a healthier body in the long run. Some research supports that aerobic (meaning “with oxygen”) exercise such a walking, running, swimming or dancing is more beneficial to reduce inflammation than other forms of exercise.

Remember that any form of movement counts and is benefiting the body for better fitness, which will reduce inflammation and improve health.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults get 150 minutes of exercise each week. But don’t let that number intimidate you. Try these tips to incorporate physical activity into your day:

  • Break exercise into pieces. Spreading exercise throughout the week will benefit your body more than doing it all at once. Go for a walk, vacuum or stretch.
  • Choose a variety of activities each week to lower CRP (that pesky inflammatory substance) levels. Activities may include walking, jogging, riding a bike or moderate strength training such as weightlifting at a gym or using hand weights in your bedroom or office.
  • Remember to exercise slowly and gradually work to increase your physical activity levels each week. Pushing yourself too hard for too long can cause sore joints and possibly induce inflammation.
  • Try yoga or meditation to relax the body, which reduces stress and inflammation.


By Lindsey Johnson, Dietetic Intern, NDSU Extension; reviewed by Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., Food and Nutrition Specialist, NDSU Extension



Beavers, K., Brinkley, T., Nicklas, B. (2010). Effect of exercise training on chronic inflammation. Clinica Chimica Acta, 411(11-12), pg. 785-793.

Ford, Earl S. (2002). Does exercise reduce inflammation? Physical activity and c-reactive protein among U.S. adults. Epidemiology 13, no. 5, 561-68. Retrieved from

Mahmoun, N., Hamid, A., Mohammad, A., Khosrow, E. (2014). Effects of nonlinear resistance and aerobic interval training on cytokines and insulin resistance in sedentary men who are obese. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 28(9), 2560-2568. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000441

Rejeski, W., Marsh, A., Fanning, J., Ambrsius, M., Walkup, M., Nicklas, B. (2019). Dietary weight loss, exercise, and inflammation in older adults with overweight or obesity and cardiometabolic disease. Obesity, 27(11), 1805-1811.

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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