As reported in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, a moderate exercise program for 12 months reduces the levels of an inflammatory marker, the high sensitivity C-reactive protein or hsCRP, a well established risk factor for heart disease. It causes inflammation in the walls of arteries allowing cholesterol to build up and it can be ordered by any physician.
The study group consisted of sedentary, overweight, postmenopausal women 50-75 years of age. In the study, one group of women was assigned to an aerobic exercise plan of 60-75 percent of maximum heart rate for 45 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Another group was assigned to do one day a week of stretching. Blood tests were taken at the start, 3 months and 12 months. CRP decreased by 10 percent in the aerobic group, but increased by 12 percent in the stretching group.
Women whose body mass index was greater than 30 (considered obese) or whose waist was greater than 34.5 inches (more than 33 inches is considered obese) had the greatest decrease of CRP. The reductions in this study were achieved only through exercise and no dietary changes were involved.
The visceral abdominal fat cells that surround the internal organs are the primary source of the CRP as well as other inflammatory chemicals. During an infection the CRP will rise and then fall after the infection is resolved. So if there is no infection and CRP is elevated, then it is coming from the deep abdominal fat cells. Elevations in CRP are also associated with greater generalized body pains, and pre-diabetes. An hsCRP of less than 1g/l is considered low cardiovascular risk, 1-3 moderate risk and 3.1-10 high risk.
The good news is that the CRP if highly modifiable through lifestyle changes such as exercise and diet. Other studies have shown that CRP can be reduced even more through the combined lifestyle changes of exercise and the Mediterranean diet. Just because the study mentioned above focused on women doesn’t mean its findings aren’t relevant to men. Abdominal fat works the same way in women and men. If a man’s waist is greater than 40 inches, he is at major risk for heart disease and diabetes and most likely will have an elevated CRP. Lifestyle changes appear to work equally well in men and women.