Exercise is such a healthy thing to do—you wouldn’t think it would cause the body harm.
The fact is, however, exercise increases oxygen use in the body, and when molecules are exposed to oxygen, they can oxidize or break up, releasing free radicals into the system and causing what is known as “oxidative stress.” Free radicals need to be kept in check lest they wreak havoc with other cells and cause health problems over the long term.
When it comes to relieving oxidative stress, antioxidants are the body’s miracle workers. They slow or prevent cell damage by neutralizing the effects of free radicals. Thankfully, the body produces most of the antioxidants it needs and gets the rest through the foods we eat.
If you exercise, and especially if you’re an athlete, oxidative stress is a good thing to know about. This primer can help you understand oxidative stress and how to optimize the healing effects of antioxidants in your body.
All forms of exercise cause some oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress from exercise is normal. In small doses, the body should have sufficient antioxidants to counteract the free radicals your workout produces.
Regular exercise helps increase your antioxidant levels.
Consistent, moderate endurance and strength training increases your body’s natural antioxidant levels and its defense against free radicals. The key is consistency: regular routines—at least 3–5 times a week—train the body to be ready with the supply of antioxidants needed. But if you typically get on the treadmill only over the weekend, you may want to bump up your frequency to include some weekdays (see the next item).
Extremes may cause problems.
Push the body a little beyond its usual limits, and its capacity to manage oxidative stress will expand and adapt. Push the body to extremes, and the stress levels may be more than it can keep in check, which can increase your risk of disease over time. Think in terms of progressing in your workout rather than overdoing.
Vitamin E and vitamin C play a part in your routine.
Both vitamins have been shown to reduce muscle soreness and inflammation following workouts.
The jury is out on supplementing your diet.
The best source of antioxidants is through a healthy diet of natural, whole foods. Five servings of fruit or vegetables each day will help your body maintain a healthy antioxidant system. If you choose to take supplements, use moderation. Studies have shown that antioxidants in high concentrations can actually increase one’s risk of serious disease such as cancer.