Stretching and Immunity

It is now common knowledge that many of the current health crises that afflict the world – heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and dementia – all have a common precursor – INFLAMMATION.  Even Coronavirus infections would seem to be a lot worse for the patient if they have high levels of inflammatory blood markers.

Inflammation is the process that lets the body fight off invading pathogens (bacteria, viruses and fungi) by kick starting the immune system into action and is typically characterised by heat, swelling, pain and redness.  There is an increase pathogen destroying cells including macrophage, neutrophils, B and T cells.  Both B and T cells also produce long living inflammatory proteins called cytokines.

However this inflammatory immune response should only be a short term response, if the inflammation becomes chronic, the immune system can begin damaging healthy tissue.  Why does chronic inflammation develop?  Well this is largely due to 21st Century lifestyles with unrelieved stress (and the production of stress hormones), lifestyle factors including obesity, high sugar diets, smoking and lack of exercise/activity.  All these things are seen by the body as an attack on it which stimulates the inflammatory response.

Over the past 20 years evidence has emerged of what we can do to put out the “fire of inflammation” –

  • Lose weight (excess weight is a storehouse for cytokines)
  • Increase our Omega 3 consumption
  • Exercise
  • Take low dose aspirin (PLEASE SEE YOUR GP BEFORE TRYING THIS)
  • Stretching (see below)

There is now evidence that these healthy lifestyles choices work by flicking the off switch in inflammation via the productions of chemical called Resolvins produced by macrophages and neutrophils.  Resolvins would appear to be able mop up the circulating inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, as mentioned above.

In the past 10 years it has been found that as well as the well known lifestyle changes mentioned above, stretching skeletal muscle regularly also stimulates the production of resolvins.  Could this be the reason that Yoga and Pilates have such a reputation as health tonics?  The research would indicate that the stretching needs to be slow and held for some time (as in a typical Yoga class).