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The Connection Between Oxidative Stress and Exercise

Exercise is widely recognized as beneficial for your health, with medical professionals concurring that physical activity aids in weight management, reduces the likelihood of various diseases, enhances brain health, and fortifies bones and muscles.

Yet, it is essential to strike a balance, as excessive exercise can adversely affect your body at the cellular level. Notably, it can trigger the formation of free radicals, unstable molecules capable of inflicting cell damage and contributing to illness and aging. Certain free radicals, specifically reactive oxygen species (ROS), can harm DNA, leading to oxidative stress.

We invite you to continue reading this blog to delve further into the subject and explore the profound impact of oxidative stress on your wellbeing. 

What is Oxidative Stress?

Oxidative stress is when unstable molecules – known as free radicals – damage body cells and tissue. Free radicals are created when electrons split off from molecules and seek out other electrons to bond with. It forms a domino effect, leading to the formation of even more free radicals.

Large numbers of free radicals can prevent stable molecules from functioning correctly. This leads to poor health and even the development of some diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and inflammatory conditions. Chronic oxidative stress can also accelerate the aging process.

There is a strong connection between oxidative stress and exercise. However, it is possible to control oxidative stress without forgoing training. You can do several things to reduce your risk of oxidative stress, which we dive in later on.  

How Exercise Affects Oxidative Stress

When you exercise, you consume much more oxygen than when you are at rest. As you workout, your muscle cells break down oxygen to use as energy, and this breakdown of oxygen, known as oxidation, can produce free radicals. Electrons can “leak” at the energy production site, and exercise can increase this leakage.

Nonetheless, exercise can have both positive and negative effects on oxidative stress.

  • Positive effects: Exercise can increase the body’s production of antioxidants and improve the body’s ability to remove free radicals from the body. It helps to reduce oxidative stress in the long term.
  • Adverse effects: Exercise can also increase the production of free radicals quickly. This is especially true for high-intensity exercise.

The Risks of Oxidative Stress

Extreme exercise can injure muscles. The immune system responds to muscle injury by sending immune cells to the injury site. Unfortunately, immune cells often produce free radicals in response to exercise-induced injuries.

Excessive exercise can overcome the body’s antioxidant defense system and lead to oxidative stress. A condition characterized by excessive exercise without adequate recovery, known as overtraining syndrome, can lead to oxidative stress that causes cell damage and dysfunction.

Oxidative stress and exercise: long-term health implications

Oxidative stress can cause cholesterol to build up inside the walls of your arteries, which are the large blood vessels that deliver oxygen-rich blood to your heart and the rest of your body. More specifically, free radicals can trigger a chemical reaction that creates a dangerous form of low-density lipoproteins (LDL). 

LDL is colloquially known as “bad cholesterol” because it clogs arteries and can cause heart attacks and strokes. This dangerous form of LDL can lead to inflammation and other health concerns. Oxidation increases with training, so the more you exercise, the more likely you are to develop oxidized LDL and the problems it causes.

Overcoming Exercise-induced Oxidative Stress

As previously mentioned, exercise is essential for optimal health, but excessive physical exertion can cause cellular damage that may even undo some of the beneficial effects of exercise. Of course, you should never skimp on your fitness routine because you are worried about free radicals — there are ways to protect your cells from the damage oxidative stress causes.

The human body has natural defenses, known as antioxidants, which help stabilize free radicals. Unfortunately, natural antioxidants are in short supply. Fortunately, there are ways to help your body reverse the effects of oxidative stress.

Therefore, we recommend eating foods high in antioxidants, such as:

  • Liver
  • Citrus fruits
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Beans
  • Sprouts
  • Seeds

Research shows that eating these foods can help athletes and active adults get the antioxidants they need to avoid oxidative stress.

There are also other ways to protect your cells from oxidative stress:

  • Red light therapy: Red light therapy uses specific wavelengths of light to stimulate healthy metabolic processes in the body. It helps to reduce inflammation, promote healing, and suppress the production of free radicals.
  • Manage stress: Stress can contribute to oxidative stress, so finding healthy ways to manage stress is essential. It could include yoga, meditation, or spending time in nature.
  • Get enough sleep: Sleep is vital for cell repair and regeneration. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body is more susceptible to oxidative stress.

Diving into Red Light Therapy

A growing number of people are turning to red light therapy to keep free radicals and the damage oxidative stress causes under control.

Light travels in waves, and at specific wavelengths, light can benefit the human body. For example, body cells can absorb red light, and particular wavelengths can stimulate healthy metabolic processes. Red and near-infrared wavelengths can promote Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production, which boosts energy transport between cells. Red light also helps decrease inflammation and promote healing, suppressing the production of free radicals and keeping oxidative stress under control.

For more information on the connection between oxidative stress and exercise, consult a health or wellness professional. They can help you develop a treatment plan that reduces free radicals and the physical damage of oxidative stress.

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