Exercise, Pain or Gain?
The summer season is quickly approaching. Warmer weather and longer days call us to be outside - camping, hiking, biking, swimming, and generally exploring and enjoying the outdoors. Physical activity and exercise are two of the main foundations of health and well-being. Exercise is an essential way to stimulate our vitality, our strength, and the natural healing mechanisms of the human body. Exercising regularly is important for developing exercise tolerance, as well as improving stamina and endurance.
The benefits of exercise are well-documented and provide tremendous protection for long-term health. Regular physical activity has the direct effect of promoting adaptability of the heart, the vascular system, and the nervous system. Physical activity also promotes harmonious relationship between the respiratory system, cardiovascular system, nervous system, and endocrine (hormonal) system, thus helping to prevent disease. Research has demonstrated positive effects of exercise on heart disease and inflammation.
However, exercising or running too fast, too long, or too often can have significant consequences on the brain and the body. Studies have shown that those who regularly exercise for two hours or more could be doing more harm to their bodies than good. ‘Overtraining syndrome’ is a term used to describe the symptoms that arise as a result of exercising too often and/or not allowing enough time for the body to recover. Overtraining can result in a variety of symptoms including fatigue, poor sleep (despite being tired), aching muscles, poor workout performance, irritability, decreased immune function, loss of appetite, loss of libido, increased bone loss, and abnormal heart rate. If any of these occur, it is important to take a break from exercising and rest. Once the body recovers, return to activity slowly and consider modifying the exercise routine to include gentler activities such as yoga. Start slowly and rev it up.
Balance is key.
Stress and inflammation have become the curses of our times and are the main factors in multiple diseases. With the increase in activity, it is not unusual to experience muscle soreness, joint discomfort, fatigue, and in some cases, significant injury.
Several anti-inflammatory drugs are available to help reduce inflammation in the body, but many have side effects and are not always effective. In fact, over time, these drugs decrease the proteins (called glycosaminoglycans) that create connective tissue and damage the joints. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have also been shown to increase free radicals in the heart, which may explain the increased risk of heart attack and stroke associated with NSAID use.
Therefore, there is a greater interest in natural compounds, such as dietary supplements and herbal remedies, that have been used for centuries in conventional Indian medicinal practices for improving and restoring health and vitality. Herbal medicine can provide safe and natural alternatives to maintain optimal performance, reduce the risk of injury, support healthy inflammation, and enhance recovery.
In Ayurveda, the actions of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) are described as Balya (that which gives inner strength and vitality) and Breehana (that which improved muscle bulk). Ashwagandha is categorized as having "rasayana" (rejuvenator), longevity, and revitalizing properties, thus promoting youthful vigor, slowing the ageing process, enhancing muscle strength and endurance, rebuilding and protecting joint structure, and improving overall health. Ashwagandha has analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anabolic activities.
Several studies support the use of ashwagandha in joint protection, exercise performance, and recovery.
One two-week trial, conducted at The Ayurvedic & Naturopathic Medical Clinic in Bellevue, WA, evaluated the use of ashwagandha and arjuna (Terminalia arjuna – a powerful heart tonic) on exercise performance in 18 healthy students. Students were divided into two groups (experimental vs control) and underwent upper body, core, and lower body exercise performance tests. Students in the experimental group received 1 capsule (500mg) of Ashwagandha, three times a day and 1 capsule of Arjuna Heart™, three times a day. Dosage for both supplements was doubled in the second week to 2 capsules, three times a day. At the end of the two weeks, students in the experimental group demonstrated significant improvement compared to the control group in each category. Improvement in upper body capacity was the highest, averaging 71% better than the control group. Core and lower body strength also improved significantly, 16% and 11%, respectively. Total performance in the experimental group was 24% better than total performance by the control group. This small study showed that within 2 weeks, supplementation with these herbs may significantly improve exercise performance compared to baseline.
Another study found that a 500 mg dose of an extract of Ashwagandha improved upper and lower-body strength and reduced body fat over a 12-week period. Researchers have also reported data demonstrating that ashwagandha improves blood markers of exercise-induced muscle damage and increases testosterone levels. Ashwagandha may therefore be useful for generalized weakness and to improve speed, lower limb muscular strength, and coordination between nerves and muscles.
Curcuma longa, commonly known as turmeric, contains curcumin that may have anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for inflammatory disorders including arthritis. Several studies have shown that curcumin limits the production of molecules called cytokines, which cause inflammation. In one clinical trial in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin (1200 mg/day) was compared with the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), phenylbutazone (300 mg/day). The improvements in the duration of morning stiffness, walking time, and joint swelling were comparable in both groups.
In a 6-month study of individuals with knee arthritis, Ayurvedic formulations (extracts of Tinospora cordifolia, Zingiber officinale, Emblica officinalis, and Boswellia serrata) significantly reduced knee pain and improved knee function with results equal to the use of glucosamine and prescription anti-inflammatory drugs. Boswellia extracts (300-350 mg three times daily) have also shown similar effectiveness to conventional anti-inflammatory medications with fewer side effects. In a clinical trial of osteoarthritis patients, an extract from boswellia was shown to provide significant pain relief and improvement in physical ability in as few as 7 days!
Narayan oil is one of the most respected of all the Ayurvedic herbal oils. Used for centuries, this rejuvenating combination of more than 20 herbs can be used topically to soothe aching muscles and joints and enhance the flexibility of muscles and tendons. Studies have demonstrated that after 24 h of use, Narayan oil formulations have been shown to significantly reduce the secretion of inflammatory cytokines. The results of this study further confirm the promising anti-inflammatory activity associated with the use of Narayan oil in joint pain and arthritic conditions.
Preventing and reducing inflammation not only allows us to continue playing hard but is essential for long-term health. As little as 20 minutes of exercise can stimulate the immune system and produce anti-inflammatory effects. Incorporating herbal formulas aids the body in maintaining optimal function and balance.
Ayurvedic medicine can help you play hard and recover fast.
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