Exercise and Free Radical Damage

fitness-44530_640The exercise craze has certainly not diminished over the years. If anything it has become a national obsession, with half marathons, triathalons, and the recent advent of the “mudder.” No, not slang for “mother,” but a down and out grueling athletic event where the individual completing the event is bestowed an orange headband!

I will always be the first to tell a client that at the very least they should get outside for a minimum of 15 minutes to walk. I am not opposed to exercise, I am however cautious about the intensity and duration as it relates to long term health.

What do I mean by that? Excessive exercise can produce something called free radicals. These bad boys are “An atom or group of atoms that has at least one unpaired electron and is therefore unstable and highly reactive. In animal tissues, free radicals can damage cells and are believed to accelerate the progression of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and age-related diseases.” (Source)

In simplified terms, think of a fire in a fireplace without a screen and the logs are cracking and spitting out cinders on to your carpet, leaving damage and burn holes. This is what a free radical does to anything it interacts with in your body. In short it is burning your tissue and causing damage.

Are all free radicals evil? No. Some are created by the body to help fight off disease. Free radicals becomes problematic when there are more of them than the body can handle, creating an imbalance that could lead to disease.

What causes free radicals?

  • Exercise exercise
  • Excessive sunburn
  • Bad fat diet
  • Industrial pollution
  • Excessive ionizing radiation
  • Smoking
  • Inflammation
  • Processed foods
  • Drugs – prescription as well as recreational
  • General stress, job, life transition, etc.,

How do I fight off these bad boys?

The answer is relatively simple and found in antioxidants.

Once antioxidants find free radicals, they generously donate molecules to neutralize them so the free radicals become harmless before they can damage body cells. If no antioxidants are present, free radicals will steal that missing part from healthy molecules to become whole.

Antioxidants can slow, prevent, or repair damage to your body cells. While some antioxidants simply control free radicals, others reverse cell damage by transforming free radicals to less damaging compounds or waste products that are eliminated before they can do damage. Another group of antioxidants can repair the damaged cell itself. (Source)

What concerns me is the amount of intense exercise individuals are participating in and may not be protected by antioxidants. My other concern is the justification that athletes use to eat a high inflammatory diet which is low in nutrients. The CDC recommends 2.5 hours of moderate exercise a week to maintain a healthy body. However, the following disturbances are seen after 30-90 minutes of intensive exercise:

  • Feeling exhausted vs. energized
  • Recurrent virus
  • Chronic illness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Depression
  • G.I. disturbances
  • Repetitive injury
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Skin problems-psoriasis etc.,
  • Gum damage, sores in the mouth

Exercising at a high intensity can help cancer cells to survive treatment and lead to a disease comeback. This staggering statement is the result of a research study published in Molecular Cancer research (2010; 8 [10], 1399-412). Stress, including the physical stress of intense exercise, seems to activate a protein that enhances the ability of cancer cells to survive treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. This protein, called heat shock factor-1, is induced by stress.

Wow! I have always advised against using programs that preach for high intensity exercise in order to speed up results. Now there is a study that shows the incredible and devastating effects of training at a high intensity to the molecular level.

Dr. Kenneth Cooper wrote a book in 1994 called Antioxidant Revolution. As a medical professional he was seeing his patients succumb to cardiovascular disease and cancer even though they had an extrmely high fitness level.

Grete Waitz, a well known marathoner and medal winner died, of leukemia at the age of 53; Jim Fixx, a well known marathon runner, died of a heart attack at the age of 52, he had almost complete blockage of his coronary arteries and there was evidence of scar tissue from 2 previous heart attacks. Dr. Cooper states that “I have come to believe that there may also be a link between overtraining and disease.”

Dr O’Keefe stressed the review findings should not undermine the message that physical exercise was good for most people. He said “Physically active people are much healthier than their sedentary counterparts. Exercise is one of the most important things you need to do on a daily basis.” But what this paper points out is that a lot of people do not understand that the lion’s share of health benefits accrue at a relatively modest level. “Extreme exercise is not really conducive to great cardiovascular health. Beyond 30-60 minutes per day, you reach a point of diminishing returns,” he added. Read the article here.

This article is not intended to take you off track from your exercise objective. Rather, use it as a springboard to look at your lifestyle and nutrition to make sure that it is supportive and preventative if you exercise beyond 30-60 minutes a day.

What can be done?

Eliminate sugar completely as it causes inflammation and inflammation causes free radicals. Don’t use exercise as an excuse to dive into those Little Debbies or indulge in fried foods, instead eat a lot of brightly colored fruits and vegetables.

You will need to take an antioxidant cocktail to curtail free radical damage: I recommend products from NeoLife.

  • Carotenoid Complex – 3 a day
  • Salmon Oil Plus – 3 a day
  • Tre en en – 1 a day
  • Vitamin E – 1 a day
  • Vitamin C – 1000 mg a day
  • Multi vitamin and mineral

I believe these nutrients in combination with a low inflammation and high nutrient dense diet will provide the protecion you need to accomplish your amazing athletic events!

Please don’t hesitate to contact me so I can help you put together your protocol to nourish and protect your body!

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