Tag Archives: sport science

Upper body exercise versus lower body in terms of inflammation


Like a lot of fitness fanatics, I do a lot of reading. I am always looking for new information to help me and my readers and friends improve their athletic performance and overall health. One area in particular I love exploring are the differences between upper body exercise and lower body exercise.

So I was very excited when I found this- The inflammatory response to upper and lower limb exercise and the effects of exercise training in patients with claudication.I have cited some studies that contrast upper body with lower body exercise before, but they weren’t about the amount of inflammation in response to upper body versus lower body exercise. I’ve been curious about this for some time. To make the long story short, inflammation can be a good thing at a moderate level, while chronic inflammation is associated with, and may play a role in causing many serious diseases.

Too much inflammation may also hinder exercise recovery and performance. The study I mentioned above, from the University of Sheffield, U.K is of particular interest since it found that:


An acute bout of sustained lower limb exercise significantly increased the intensity of CD11b and CD66b(these are markers for inflammation) expression by peripheral blood neutrophils in all groups, whereas upper limb exercise had no effect. Resting neutrophil expression of CD11b and CD66b and circulating von Willebrand factor levels were unaffected by the training program, as were the inflammatory responses to an acute bout of sustained upper and lower limb muscular work, despite the fact that both training programs significantly increased walking distances.


These findings indicate that upper limb exercise training programs may offer certain advantages over currently prescribed lower limb programs. Our results show that exercising nonischemic muscles in a way that promotes improved cardiorespiratory function and walking capacity can avoid the potentially deleterious systemic inflammatory responses associated with lower limb exertion in patients with stable intermittent claudication.

(Bold is mine)

So in essence, the lesson here is that lower body exercise produces a lot of inflammation, while upper body produces none(based on the specific markers used). This makes sense in a way since lower body exercise is generally weight-bearing, compared to most upper body exercise, and the leg muscles are generally larger. This isn’t really that surprising.

So upper body cardio probably wouldn’t be as exhausting, obviously. And as far as joggling is concerned, most of the inflammation is due to the running(most of the effort/calories burned is due to the running), not the juggling, so if you are afraid that adding juggling to your running will be problematic for you, there is little reason to be concerned.

Unlike regular running, joggling helps improve posture and coordination, with little to no drawbacks.

The effects of air pollution on exercise

How air pollution affects exercise performance doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. It is a rather complex subject, although it seems rather intuitive that the more polluted the air, the worse it is for exercise. Although air pollution is everywhere, it is far worse in urban centers, with most of it coming from vehicle exhaust.

On this issue, it appears that science agrees with our intuition. According to this study – Subclinical Effects of Aerobic Training in Urban Environment, which compared people trying to improve their aerobic fitness in urban and rural settings, both groups became equally fit, though reaction times were better in rural settings and the urban exercisers had significantly higher levels of inflammation markers(exercise even in a non-polluted area can cause inflammation, it’s just worse in polluted areas).

I don’t believe the lesson to be learned from this is to not exercise if you live in a polluted area, unless you have respiratory disease, but rather to be more cautious or try to seek out an area with cleaner air to exercise if possible.

Also, I think it could be possible to prevent the inflammation caused by pollution by eating better. Some foods have a pro-inflammatory effect, like food with a high saturated fat content, as well as fried, roasted and overly processed foods. On the other hand, many fresh fruits and vegetables either have a neutral effect on inflammation or can help prevent it from getting out of control. Curcumin, a natural compound which is found in turmeric(an important ingredient in curry), has potent anti-inflammatory effects. Ginger, a close cousin of turmeric has similar benefits. Leafy greens may also help. Try to get all this from food, not supplements.

Besides this, if you are a runner living in an urban environment, try to stay far away from highways or areas with heavy traffic when running. In my personal experience, it seems that I’ve had to apply more effort when running in polluted areas than in non-polluted areas to achieve my usual pace. Also, the study I cited seems to suggest that air pollution would have more of an effect on jogglers than runners, since air pollution interferes with reaction rates/cognition during aerobic exercise. In my experience, I am more likely to drop the balls in polluted areas.

Do not let this discourage you from exercise, unless you have medical issues.