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The Weight Training / Immune System Connection



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Does training hard help keep you healthy, or does it increase your risk of getting sick. Research shows that both intense exercise and chronic fatigue can result in suppression of the immune system.

While intense exercise can exert a negative impact on your body's ability to ward off disease, it's not clear exactly what that leads to down the line. So does hard training make you sick? Research suggests that it does not.

In studies of runners those who ran less than 15 miles per week were found to be more susceptible to infection than those who ran more. Scientists have also discovered that runners are less susceptible to illness following a single major competition. While there is a temporary drop in immune function immediately following an intense training session, this effect doesn't last long. The depressed immune function returns to normal within two hours. We don't know whether the results from one training session can carry over and last in a situation where someone is chronically overtraining. As long as you avoid overtraining and ongoing fatigue, exercise should have a beneficial effect on your ability to stay healthy; at the very worst it will have no effect at all.

Cancer Prevention in the Gym

While we know that diet plays a profound role in the growth or prevention of cancer, it's not clear whether there's a similar link between exercise and cancer. Even so, several studies have shown a reduced risk of estrogen-sensitive cancers in women who exercise regularly. A recent study that looked at more than 5,000 female college graduates found that the former athletes in the group had significantly fewer breast and reproductive system cancers than their sedentary counterparts. All of these findings point to the benefits of regular exercise beginning at an early age.

Other recent findings relating to exercise and disease prevention include a strength-training study of men that found a significantly accelerated gastrointestinal transit time in those who weight trained three days per week, an effect that could reduce the risk of constipation, diverticulosis, hemorrhoids and colon cancer.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is an injury that causes numbness and loss of feeling in your fingers and hands. The symptoms result from impingement of the muscles and tendons of the forearms on the nerves that feed into the hands. On the underside of each wrist there is a connective tissue band that holds all the tendons and nerves leading to the hand. As the muscles of the forearm strengthen and the tendons grow, pressure builds up in the limited space below the connective tissue band. Relatively minor surgery is required to loosen the band and remove the pressure.

Two top bodybuilders, Lou Ferrigno and Bev Francis, recently underwent corrective surgery to alleviate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, and at the time of this writing they are both back to intense training. While you might expect that bodybuilders and weightlifters would be susceptible to this ailment due to their training and muscle hypertrophy, you may not realize how commonplace carpal tunnel syndrome is becoming in our automated society. Check-out clerks who use the new bar-code scanners and repeatedly flex their wrists all day long are becoming increasingly susceptible to these symptoms, as are workers who perform certain computer functions repeatedly. Although carpal tunnel syndrome is not a prevalent injury in bodybuilding, it does occur, as witnessed by the experiences of Francis and Ferrigno. Both stretching and slowly increasing the work load on your forearms will help you to avoid it.

The Scale Doesn't Tell All

Your bodyfat level is a much more accurate indicator of your fitness and health than your bodyweight is. This is particularly true for athletes who have much higher bone density and muscle mass than their sedentary counterparts. While weighing yourself on a weekly basis can let you know if you're gaining or losing, the more important factors are your body composition and whether what you're losing is muscle, water or fat. Lean tissue, or muscle, will make you weigh more, yet it benefits your performance and health. It's great to weigh 200 pounds if your bodyfat level is less than 10 percent-that is, more than 180 pounds of you is lean tissue. If, on the other hand, your bodyfat level is 25 percent, you're only carrying 150 pounds of lean tissue, which dramatically reduces your health, performance and appearance benefits.

There are three methods for deter-mining body composition and bodyfat levels: skinfold measurements, impedance testing and hydrostatic, or underwater, weighing. All three techniques have their advantages and limitations.

One of the most convenient and readily accessible procedures is the skinfold test. If it is performed by a qualified practitioner, the results can be as accurate as those for the other two methods. As with bodyweight measures it's not so much what your initial value comes out to be, but rather how that value changes with training and time. Just as you might get two different bodyweight measures between your bathroom scale and the one at your doctor's office, your body-composition level will vary somewhat when determined by the different methods and with different people performing the tests. No matter which method you choose, it's best to have the test performed by the same individual and under the same conditions every time.






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