Even a small dose of exercise, such as brisk walking, may help prevent serious illness by stimulating the immune system and suppressing inflammation, new research shows.
The study, by researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, found that just 20 minutes of moderate exercise is enough to produce an anti-inflammatory effect. Their findings, published online in January 2017 in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, suggest that exercise can help people avoid or manage chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and atherosclerosis.
“Our study shows a workout session doesn’t actually have to be intense to have anti-inflammatory effects,” said lead study author Suzi Hong, Ph.D., of the university’s department of psychiatry and department of family medicine and public health. “Twenty minutes to a half hour of moderate exercise appears to be sufficient.”
The researchers studied 47 healthy men and women ages 28 to 57. Participants began by running on treadmills as long and fast as possible to determine how much exercise they could handle.
One to two weeks later, the participants ran a second time, this time for 20 minutes on treadmills set at moderate intensity for each runner. Blood samples were drawn before and immediately after the second treadmill session, and were then analyzed to determine how the exercise affected the cellular anti-inflammatory response. The results suggested that even a short workout can boost the immune system by reducing the number of immune cells producing inflammatory proteins.
“Feeling like a workout needs to be at a peak exertion level for a long duration can intimidate those who suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases and could greatly benefit from physical activity,” Hong says.
Our advice: If you’re not exercising, you can do yourself a world of good with brief workouts that fit your schedule. But first ask your doctor to help you plan a safe routine.
Pete Kelly is a freelance writer based in northern New Jersey. He has been a medical editor and writer for more than two decades, focusing on diabetes, medical education, and psychiatry. He also has worked as a daily newspaper reporter and editor. He is involved in civic causes and enjoys reading and running.