The positive impact of moderate exercise has been well documented by previous research but there is a lack of understanding about the reason. A new study suggests it could be related to the production level of macrophages — white blood cells that fight off infections, heal injury and act as first responders in the body.
Inflammation is an important immune response, but too much of it can lead to disease. Chronic inflammation may contribute to diabetes, obesity, celiac disease, arthritis, fibromyalgia, or bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, according to Medical News Today.
Previous studies have shown how exercise can reduce inflammation. For instance, a 2017 study, published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, showed that about 20 minutes of moderate exercise, including fast walking, could have anti-inflammatory effects.
Now, a new study, led by researchers from York University, found that exercise of moderate intensity trains the precursors of macrophages in the bone marrow. York Research Chair Ali Abdul-Sater with the School of Kinesiology and Health Science said in a press statement by York University, “The way that exercise is doing this is by changing the way those cells breathe, essentially, how they use oxygen to generate energy and then changing the way they access their DNA.” The study was published in the journal AJP-Cell.
Often inflammation in the body is talked about in terms of its negative effects, but it is the body’s response to infection and other stressors, and some level of it is necessary, according to the statement.
“What we’re concerned about is excessive inflammation. Heart disease, diabetes, many cancers and autoimmune diseases, all essentially begin because there was an inappropriate inflammatory response,” explains Abdul-Sater.
According to the study, the changes become apparent around the six-to-eight-week mark into the exercise regimen. Abdul-Sater says in the statement that while the findings about exercise’s benefits are not a surprise, he hopes that the knowledge about underlying mechanisms of its beneficial impact can be put to good use. According to him, this study suggests that moderate and persistent exercise not only improves metabolic health but also will improve immune health in the long run.