Studies show that exercise is a key ingredient to reducing inflammation. Here we look at which forms of exercise are best.

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Reducing inflammation continues to be a hot topic, and for good reason. Some inflammation is natural in the body—for example, it's your body's response to helping you heal a skinned knee or fighting off foreign invaders. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, can be problematic. Chronic inflammation is often brought on by lifestyle choices and is a common contributing factor in many chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and even Alzheimer's disease.

The good news is that research suggests even moderate exercise can lower the body's inflammatory response. And even better news is that many exercises can be done anywhere, even in the comfort of your own home! The key is to get moving. Here are five simple ways to exercise at home to reduce inflammation.

Walking

Going for a walk is one of the most easily accessible ways to get exercise into your day. And according to a study on inflammation and exercise, even a 20-minute walk can lower the body's inflammatory response.

For the greatest benefit, go for a walk outside and combine the benefits of being out in nature with the benefits of exercise. If you're not wanting to leave the house, dust off that treadmill that's been sitting in your basement and hop on for a 20-minute walk (or walk in place) while you watch your favorite show.

Yoga

Yoga is meditation in motion. Combining deep breathing exercises with gentle movements, yoga can help lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and even improve symptoms of depression. Pretty impressive, right?

Yoga can be done anywhere. While many people enjoy the community built by attending classes at a local studio, a quick Google search provides an unlimited number of resources for online classes and tutorials. (YouTube also offers thousands of free videos to choose from.)

As an instructor, I recommend a gentle yoga flow to begin a yoga practice:

Start in a seated, crossed-leg position on the floor and begin to focus on your breathing. Seal your lips and begin to inhale and exhale through the nose. Inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of two and exhale for a count of six. From here, move to a hands-and-knees posture on your mat. Continue focusing on your breath and move into the Cat and Cow series.

After several repetitions through Cat and Cow, move into Child's Pose and continue to focus on your breathing . Take three full breath cycles in Child's Pose before coming onto your hands and knees, moving into Downward Dog. Hold Downward Dog for three full breath cycles before beginning to walk your feet toward your hands. Then allow your arms to hang in Rag Doll Pose. Hold three full breath cycles here in Rag Doll, softening your knees and letting your chest fall toward your thighs, then slowly roll up to a standing and come into Mountain Pose. (Try it at home with this gentle at-home yoga sequence.)

Woman preparing to exercise at home
Credit: Getty / Anon Krudsumlit / EyeEm

Bodyweight Exercises

Bodyweight exercises are one of the best ways that we can build strength without putting additional stress on the joints by loading them with weight. In addition, research shows that resistance training can slow down the inflammatory response in older adults.

To get a full-body workout using only bodyweight exercises, try completing the following five exercises for time. Beginners should start with 30 seconds each; moderate exercisers, try 45 seconds each; and advanced exercisers, try performing each exercise for 1 minute. Go through all the exercises two to three times, depending on how you feel.

  • Start with jumping jacks to warm up and get your heart rate up. (Modification: side step with no jumping—step, tap, step, tap)
  • Bodyweight squats to work your lower body. (Modification: Wall squat or wall sit.)
  • Pushups to work your upper body. (Modifications: Kneeling pushups, pushups using a bench to elevate the upper body, or wall pushups with hands on the wall, feet on the floor.)
  • Bridges to work your lower body and core. Be sure to squeeze your glutes before your hips leave the ground. (Modification: Use a yoga block or foam roller under your tailbone to take some of the weight off your legs.)
  • Plank (Modifications: Kneeling plank or plank with upper body elevated by placing forearms on a bench.)

With all exercise, the key is to adjust the intensity relative to your ability. Try to work at a level that is moderately difficult for you for the majority of the workout, and include shorter intervals at a higher intensity. The talk test is an easy way to measure how hard you're working—if you can carry on a conversation, you're working at a low to moderate intensity; when it begins to be difficult to carry on a conversation, you know you've hit that higher-intensity threshold.

Mobility Exercises

Mobility exercises, including self-myofascial release (SMR), are a group of exercises that often use a foam roller. It's a complicated term, but when you think of SMR, think self deep-tissue massage. Utilizing a foam roller allows you to apply pressure to your muscles in the same way that a massage therapist would, but you can do it on your own time, at the gym or in your own home.

Research shows a significant increase in the range of motion of the joints and improved muscle function when SMR techniques are used.

Start with your calves and work your way up the back of your legs—from calves to hamstrings to glutes. Then move to the front of your legs—the muscles around the shins, up to the quads. Move to your back, rolling into your shoulder blades with your arms crossed over your chest.

Finally, finish by lying on the foam roller (lengthwise) vertically from your head to your tailbone. Keep your feet on the floor and allow your arms to drop out to the sides with your palms face up. This passive stretch opens the chest and gets our bodies out of the C-curve posture caused by sitting for long periods at a desk or in a car.

Cycling

Nothing takes you back to feeling like a kid quite like riding a bike. And you don't have to go to a high-intensity spin class to see the benefits. Whether you decide to get outside and ride or you choose a stationary bike ($305, Amazon), research shows that cycling helps to alleviate inflammation.

Riding a bike is a great choice for people with joint pain and arthritis since it is low-impact. Plus, cycling promotes range of motion at both the hip and knee. I've personally trained clients with knee replacement and ACL tears, and one of the ways we kept them moving prior to surgery and during recovery was by utilizing the stationary bike.

Try this format for your cycling:

  1. Do a 5-minute warmup at an easy pace and low resistance. You should feel like you are having to work to move the pedals, but not like you are struggling to move them.
  2. Cycle for 20 minutes at a moderate pace and resistance. Think of your intensity on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no exertion and 10 being the most intense exertion you could imagine. Keep your pace and resistance between 5 and 7 for intensity.
  3. Cool down with 5 minutes back at an easy pace and low resistance.