In the posts so far, I have talked a lot about the causes and dramatic consequences of excessive stress in the context of training and competitions, as well as work and family. However, it should by no means be ignored that sport and physical activity are the most important requisites for a long and healthy life. In this article, I want to look at endurance sports from this perspective. Sport is therefore extremely healthy, you just have to know how to interpret the signs when you cross the line to where acute and chronic damage can occur.
Perhaps you will easier to prevent the harmful effects of too much training and competition when you are more familiar with some of the backgrounds and signs that suggest you have over-stressed yourself. Modern exercise physiology and biology puts a lot of work into studying the healthy body. This was not the case for many decades, since scientists only studied sick bodies. Sports physiology today provides an illuminating insight into how a healthy body works.
Inflammation is a healthy body phenomenon
You are likely to believe that inflammation occurs only in connection with illness, such as infection or chronic non-communicable diseases (atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, bowel disease, etc.). The latest scientific data speaks a different language. Inflammation was recognized as a condition of the healthy body. This condition is a systematic low-threshold process of enormous importance, which is well controlled by the immune and nervous systems if one is healthy, and needs to be well controlled if one wants to stay healthy. It is a process that involves your body with all of its various functions.
Along all the mucous membranes (bronchi, intestines, urinary bladder etc.) that connect us with the outside world, inflammatory reactions are constantly taking place, corresponding immune responses … and throughout our life, the organism works along the blood vessels, in the organs, everywhere according to this principle to maintain balance.
Especially the mucous membranes, which have their very own microflora, are areas where controlled inflammatory processes secure the boundaries, initiate and control communication with the environment and thus ensure survival namely a state of equilibrium. This is where it is decided who is treated as a friend (nutrients, bacteria, viruses, macromolecules) and who is treated as an enemy (e.g. nutrients, bacteria, viruses, macromolecules). These decisions can also be negative for your well-being, such as in the context of allergies or food allergies etc.
Inflammation is therefore a physiological / health-promoting process in the body! Whether the respective molecule is treated as a friend or an enemy (which is why the list between the two brackets is the same) has a lot to do with the state of the environment at a particular point in time. If you are sick or exposed to particular stress, whether this is only the case for a short time or for a long period of time, the inflammatory environment changes and with it the extent of the inflammation, it becomes stronger and stronger until you feel really sick. Various stressful situations, such as you experience in training or competition, can trigger a wide variety of health problems, from infections (see cardiac muscle inflammation in the last article) to allergies, asthma and injuries.
The multiple systemic inflammatory processes that take place in our body are, if they remain subliminal, characteristic of a state of absolute well-being. Illness or malaise begins when this process slips and gets out of control, which is the case with all illnesses. This inflammatory state is initiated, maintained and also controlled by one and the same system, namely the stress system. It consists of the nervous system, immune system and hormones (endocrine system). The regulation (= triggering, maintaining, controlling) of the processes described by the systems mentioned takes place through a large number of control loops and feedback loops.
What does this have to do with sporting activities or with you as an elite athlete or a very ambitious amateur?
It is now well known that regular moderate physical activity stimulates the stress system so moderately that it has an extremely positive effect on our health. So exercise is the best option to prevent diseases in general. Movement dampens inflammatory processes. Today we know that all diseases are based on chronic systemic inflammation. These inflammations arise from dysregulation and can be fatal. So, depending on their genetic disposition, each person has their own medical history.
Chronic systemic inflammation can lead to arteriosclerosis, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and tumors such as breast or colon cancer etc. Physical inactivity is the number 1 risk factor for chronic diseases like high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, and obesity. Physical activity protects against these diseases and premature death, precisely because the inflammatory conditions in our body remain subliminally regulated and do not assume chronic dimensions.
As an athlete, you are on the path to health and youth ! If you don’t overdo it!
You are probably very familiar with the fact that endurance training can reduce stress, but can also mean stress, positive in the case of training to the limit of increased performance without the consequences of a decrease in performance, negative in the case of overtraining. The more you force your body to perform that degenerates into strain, the more stressed it becomes. Suddenly you feel the systemic inflammation. Acute symptoms such as fever, muscle pain, loss of appetite, sleep disorders, headache etc. can occur. Sufficient regeneration quickly makes these phenomena disappear. However, if you ignore them over and over again, you run the risk of slowly slipping into overtraining, burnout or an infection such as EBV or cardiac muscle inflammation. So be careful and go to the beginning, the line between well-being and illness is narrower the harder you go to the limits of individual resilience.
The processes that control the underlying inflammation in your body have a particularly difficult time during such times. Immune system, autonomic nervous system and your hormonal balance could decompensate. But if you manage to figure out your individual limits, then you can be sure that exercise (please note that there are other factors such as genetic makeup or diet that also play an important role) is one of the best preventive measures Measures for a long and healthy life is.
One final note:
In this post I am not talking about the local acute inflammation as a result of injury or other trauma. Acute inflammation is a process that normally occurs within a few minutes or hours and subsides again when the inflammatory stimulus is removed. It is characterized by 5 main symptoms: skin reddening, increased temperature, swelling, pain and loss of function.