Do you feel like all that hard work in the gym just isn’t quite paying off the way it should? Don’t understand why that old nagging injury is still holding you back? Feeling tired, achy, or stiff? Maybe you’re catching every little cold that’s going around? Chronic inflammation could be to blame.

Chronic inflammation is a common condition affecting athletic performance as well as short-term and long-term health. It’s a major player in the most devastating illnesses of our time, including Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Cancer among many others. This article outlines the impact of chronic inflammation on fitness and physical performance and offers some natural and effective ways to help reduce and prevent it.

Inflammation can be of two types, acute or chronic. Acute (localized) inflammation is a critical defense and repair mechanism that the body uses in cases of injury or infection. Chronic (systemic) inflammation is an ongoing condition which signals a breakdown in immune function.

Chronic inflammation can subtly undermine our best efforts to achieve our fitness goals. It can increase the acute inflammation that occurs with an injury. This means that small injuries can become more significant and “nagging” if the body is in a state of chronic inflammation. This applies to new injuries as well as to past injuries that may be lingering. Although acute inflammation is good for healing, chronic inflammation prolongs the injury state.

Because chronic inflammation leaves a person more prone to pain and injury, it can become more difficult to exercise. Burnout is more likely to occur, decreasing the drive and motivation to continue with training. Slower healing and longer recovery post-workout are common results of chronic inflammation. There’s also an increased risk of overtraining because a weakened immune system can’t keep up with the demands of repairing damaged tissue. Increased muscle tissue breakdown and decreased cardiovascular performance may also occur. To summarize, the effects of chronic inflammation are:

  • Injuries are made worse and take longer to heal
  • Chance of burnout increases, therefore motivation decreases
  • Recovery times are longer
  • Risk of overtraining increases due to weakened immune function
  • Muscle tissue break down increases
  • Cardiovascular performance decreases

Over-activity and weakness of the immune system are on the rise. Our immune systems are chronically aggravated and are mounting attacks against things that should actually be benign, like pollen, peanuts, and soy. So, what are some steps that we can take to help rebalance our immune systems and reduce chronic inflammation?

  • Support gut health and digestive function
  • Make healthy dietary choices
  • Reduce exposure to environmental irritants
  • Reduce emotional/psychological stress
  • Support the immune system during times of physical stress
  • Reduce excess weight

Support gut health and digestive function
70% of the body’s immune cells are in the intestines. Dysfunction in the gut goes hand-in-hand with dysfunction in the immune system. A healthy diet along with chewing food thoroughly, relaxing at mealtime, drinking fluids between meals, and eating to 80% full all help to support healthy digestive function. Digestive enzymes, probiotics, and periods of cleansing can be beneficial, however; please consult a professional before taking
any new supplements or undertaking
a cleanse.

Make healthy dietary choices
Every dietary choice we make can be seen as pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. An organic, whole food, plant-based diet is the best choice for reducing inflammation. If eating meat, try to limit consumption to 1-2 meals per week with a focus on lean poultry. Include more wild cold-water fish, whole grains, and legumes. Buy certified organic food as much as possible. Try anti-inflammatory seasonings in your cooking such as ginger, turmeric, and true cinnamon.

An estimated 75% of us are affected by food sensitivity and related chronic inflammation, mostly unrecognized. Identify food allergies and sensitivities with the help of a professional.

The top four food allergens (soy, corn, dairy, wheat) are virtually unavoidable in pre-packaged foods. Packaged foods often mean excess sugars, unhealthy oils, GMO’s, herbicides, and over-exposure to the same ingredients.
Many experts agree that these things combine to create a big hit to the immune system. Make your own organic, whole food alternatives to sports drinks/bars/gels etc.

Reducing exposure to environmental irritants
This action takes stress away from the elimination organs, allowing them to focus on their role in keeping the body clean and the immune system healthy.

In the home, use green cleaning products such as vinegar and baking soda and opt for natural, organic fabrics and textiles. Bath and beauty products can be a big source of chemical exposure but there are lots of natural alternatives available today. If exercising outdoors, do so in the early morning and away from traffic.

Reduce emotional stress
All of our thoughts, good and bad, affect our physical processes and makeup. Stress increases the production of inflammatory white blood cells. Meditation, yoga, breath work, and journaling are great stress-reducing activities. Keep in mind that people’s needs may change over the course of a lifetime, so it’s important to encourage clients to step back and re-evaluate their lives on a regular basis. The importance of adequate sleep cannot be overstated. When we are deprived of sleep, our adrenal glands become overactive and produce excess cortisol.

Over time this can lead to adrenal exhaustion and the inability to respond appropriately to inflammation.

Support the immune system during times of physical stress
A moderate dose of antioxidants pre- and post- workout can help to reduce oxidative stress generated by physical activity. A smoothie including organic blueberries, tart cherries, raw cacao, and flax provides good immune support. When exercising outdoors near traffic, it’s advisable to take 500mg of Vitamin C every 1-2 hours in addition to staying well hydrated.

Reduce excess weight
Excess weight can cause an inflammatory response. As fitness professionals, you know that an active lifestyle, good stress management, and a healthy approach to food are the best ways to reduce excess weight and keep it off. Although it can be boiled down to a simple sentence like that, this is often a very complex issue.

Making changes to our diet and lifestyle can greatly reduce or eliminate chronic inflammation. In doing so, we can expect to enjoy reduced aches and stiffness, improved healing and recovery times, increased energy and athletic performance, and an overall greater quality of life including a reduction in the onset of chronic, degenerative illness.

Claire Canning is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Personal Trainer living on Gabriola Island, BC and is currently working on developing an inflammation workshop. Claire has extensive experience in endurance trail running and reducing running injury through nutrition and good technique. Contact

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