There are many benefits from fitness. And many reasons why people enjoy (or subject themselves to) CrossFit Workouts. Staying in shape. Looking good. Masochistic tendencies. However, on a deeper level regular exercise reduces risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Current research indicates Fitness may protect us from free radicals. Free-radicals are major factors in development of disease. Diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease are all conditions where free-radicals are thought to be involved. Free radicals are oxidizers. They are molecules that have lost an electron. These pose problems because they are very reactive. They grab electrons from other molecules. Thus “oxidizing” them. They stress cells. Throw wrenches in the works. This includes wrench throwing into your DNA. Imagine a CrossFit workout where someone loses a plate in the middle of a crowded box. Full of people doing Fran without collars.
Damaged DNA can result in cancer. Or birth defects. Free radicals also damage tissues and organs by damaging cells and increasing inflammation. For example, they can damage pancreatic beta cells and increase risk of diabetes.
What are anti-oxidants? How do fitness and risk come into play?
Anti-oxidants are agents that protect us from free-radicals. They neutralize them. Having enough anti-oxidants reduces risk of chronic disease Normally we think of anti-oxidants as something we get from vegetables. Or fruit. Or supplements. However, exercise seems to be involved too.
Exercise, anti-Oxidants, Fitness and Risk
Exercise causes a number of changes. These changes play into the free-radical game. They are adaptions to the stress of exercise. When people are getting in shape free radical production increases. Your body suffers inflammation. And aches and pains. This is often seen after a CrossFit Workout. And in the days following a CrossFit workout. Especially when people are first getting started. This is very much like what happens when you get sick with a fever. This may be why getting in shape sucks so much. When you are getting in shape (or pushing yourself to a higher level) your body produces more free-radicals. But is not ready to handle them. Adaptation to exercise includes increasing production of anti-oxidants. Once you have adapted you will be producing enough anti-oxidants to protect from free radicals from increased exercise. You will also have increased protection from other sources of free-radicals.
Does type of workout matter? Is CrossFit, endurance or weight training best?
Animal testing indicates that endurance exercise works best for protection from inflammation and free radicals. The animals tested were rats. They were subjected to endurance training, resistance training and combination training. Hard to visualize. Hopefully more research will be done in this area. And we will get a better picture of what is optimal for humans. Weight training (resistance exercise) remains important. And CrossFit exercises (and high intensity interval training) show very promising results on other aspects of health and fitness. It seems likely that adaptation to these forms of exercise will produce results similar to endurance training.
References for further reading.
de Lemos ET, Oliveira J, Pinheiro JP, & Reis F (2012). Regular physical exercise as a strategy to improve antioxidant and anti-inflammatory status: benefits in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2012 PMID: 22928086
de Oliveira VN, Bessa A, Jorge ML, Oliveira RJ, de Mello MT, De Agostini GG, Jorge PT, & Espindola FS (2012). The effect of different training programs on antioxidant status, oxidative stress, and metabolic control in type 2 diabetes. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 37 (2), 334-44 PMID: 22458821