Fitness

This Little-Known Effect Might Be Why Exercise is So Great at Fighting Inflammation

Exercise is fantastic for you – and now, new research suggests it's so good for chronic inflammation that it’s like creating your own natural supply of CBD.

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A tough workout, a long run or a gentle yoga flow can leave you feeling reinvigorated and even relaxed. But if you’ve ever felt a little, well, “high” after working out, you might not be imagining it. It turns out that science has pinpointed some unique benefits that come with regular exercise – and getting your body moving just might be equal to taking a little CBD.

While CBD doesn’t actually give you a marijuana-like high, it does offer potential benefits like stress relief, feelings of relaxation and even pain relief for some ailments. And new research suggests that like CBD, exercise can positively influence your endocannabinoid system, delivering some pretty impressive perks for your overall health.

Every time you exercise, you’re lowering inflammation levels in your body

You already know regular exercise is important to stay well and in good health. Medical experts tout its benefits, from increased longevity to muscle building and increased strength to warding off illnesses and diseases. And now, a new research study is giving you one more reason to pick up your weights or hit the pavement: Regular exercise may reduce inflammation and its associated complications.

A November 2021 study published in Gut Microbes examined the effects of regular exercise on individuals living with arthritis. Scientists tested 78 participants, having 38 of them practice 15 minutes of muscle-strengthening exercises daily for six weeks and 40 of them make no changes to their routines. By the study’s end, the participants who exercised experienced a reduction in their arthritis pain and had lower levels of inflammatory substances (or cytokines) present in their bodies.

While it’s long been known that exercise can be beneficial for chronic inflammation and inflammatory ailments like arthritis, scientists weren’t exactly certain how exercise had such a positive effect. And, based on this study’s findings, the answer just might be in the gut.

It turned out that regular exercise actually altered participants’ gut microbes. Getting in just 15 minutes of muscle-strengthening moves left participants with an increased number of gut microbes that produced SCFAS (or short chain fatty acids), a kind of anti-inflammatory substance. It seems that regular exercise first alters the gut microbes, encouraging the production of SCFAS, and then may ultimately lower overall cytokines and inflammation throughout the body.

And there was one other surprising effect, too. The participants who exercised also saw increased levels of cannabis-like substances: endocannabinoids, substances produced by the participants’ own bodies.

What are endocannabinoids?

Endocannabinoids probably sound familiar. They sound an awful lot like cannabinoids, which are compounds found in cannabis plants and products. But these substances are actually found in your body – and your body naturally produces endocannabinoids. 

Endocannabinoids are cannabis-like substances that are used as neurotransmitters. They help regulate key functions within the body, like your energy levels, blood pressure, immune response and memory and learning. But they’re also pretty similar to the cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis sativa plant.

And your body’s very own endocannabinoids actually work like marijuana and CBD too. When your body releases endocannabinoids, it can alter everything from your mood to your pain to inflammation. Higher levels of endocannabinoids can lower pain levels, put you in a better mood and help you fight inflammation naturally. It’s like taking CBD and getting all of the same perks, but without spending money on specialty products. 

Exercise can encourage endocannabinoid production, giving you a CBD-like effect

The fact that the Gut Microbes research study uncovered that regular exercise generates the production holds some great promise for those living with chronic inflammation. And it’s also potentially beneficial for anyone who wants to reap the potential inflammation and stress soothing effects of CBD in an even more natural way.

Regular exercise can lead your gut microbes to generate both more inflammation-fighting SCFAS and endocannabinoids. In fact, the endocannabinoids had a significant impact on inflammation and arthritis pain in the study. According to the researchers’ findings, at least one-third of the anti-inflammatory substances that were produced by the gut happened as the result of an increase in endocannabinoids. 

That, in turn, means that working out is kind of like taking CBD. When you take CBD, it works with your endocannabinoid system (ECS) and its receptors to help your body naturally produce more endocannabinoids. Similarly, when you exercise, you’re altering your gut microbes and encouraging your ECS to increase its natural production of endocannabinoids. And this means that regular exercise just might have the same effect, without requiring to take oils, tablets or topical treatments to get all of the benefits that CBD may offer. 

And, when it comes to inflammation, exercising to produce your own natural endocannabinoids can be particularly beneficial. Researchers suggest that using regular workouts to create your “own ‘cannabis’” can reduce chronic inflammation, giving you a short- and long-term source of relief that’s easy to master and manage. And it could potentially help reduce or treat certain health conditions, once more research is done.

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