I have heard a lot of anecdotal evidence lately regarding the benefits that exercise can offer to the healing of wounds, as opposed to following your doctors advice and staying off your feet. People have told that after hearing their doctor tell them to not lift weights for 9 months following a spinal injury, they were back in the gym 9 day later doing light deadlifts. After 4 months, their back was stronger than ever and they were setting PR’s. I recently attended a physical therapists conference with my favorite CEO, Greg of Rocktape. I got the chance to pick the brains of some of the countries top PT’s. We talked a little bit about this topic and they said they were beginning to tell their clients to actually get out of bed and get some form of exercise to help speed up healing. But is there any truth to the claim that exercise can speed up the time of healing, or is it just a heaping helping of bro science? Let’s see what the studies have to say.
Several studies have been conducted in the past decade on this topic, all of which yielded positive outcomes. One study was conducted in Ohio on a group of senior citizens. They were each given a cut that was 1/8 inch across and fairly deep. One group began exercising 1 month before the experiment began, the other group had no exercise. At the end of the study, the researchers found that the skin wounds completely healed 10 days faster in the exercise group vs. the non-exercise group. That is a 25% faster recovery time! Keep in mind that this was done on a group of senior citizens whose form of exercise was on a stationary bike. Imagine how exponentially greater the benefits of exercise would be on the body on a young, injured weightlifter in their prime. Another finding from the study was the role that exercise played on regulating cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone and researchers found that the “stress” of exercise helped enhance the regulation of cortisol. This enhancement may also help speed up healing times.
Another study, from Illinois, yielded a conclusion the increased blood flow the the area of an injury or wound could be beneficial for healing and is brought about by exercise. Exercise has been shown to decrease inflammation by sending immune cells to spots of inflammation. The faster a wound is healed, the less time it has to get infected. This is also an important factor to remember when dealing with wounds or injuries. Delayed wound healing in the aged population of the U.S. costs more than 9 billion dollars a year. Imagine the money it would save us if we simply used exercise as a way to speed up healing time, rather than having 50 tubes stuck in us, forced to stay in bed for weeks and never really healing up properly. My opinion is that if I already am already squatting, why not use that to speed up injury healing and save myself a trip to the doctor and the bill that comes with it?