Antioxidants . . . what comes to mind first? The orange vegetables - carrots and sweet potatoes, supplements like selenium, and vitamins C, D, E, right?
When we think about antioxidants, we typically think about eating something to combat those trouble-making oxidants with anti-oxidants from supplements and vividly colored fruit and vegetables.
I want to change your mind about antioxidants!
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are reported to be a major player in health and wellness by scavenging the blood for free radical cells that have entered the bloodstream from pollutants.
Some free radical cells are positive and are needed to fight disease and heal injury. However, when the body is exposed to environmental pollution, free radicals are produced in excess.
Excessive Free radicals do the damage
Excessive free radicals not only cause damage and leave the body more susceptible to carcinogens (cancer causing substances), they also play roles in heart disease and hardening of the arteries.
This occurs when free radicals oxidize with the bad (low-density) cholesterol.
Oxidation in the blood stream operates in the same way that metal tarnishes (when it's left outside in the weather). When metal tarnishes, it is being oxidized. And that's what excessive free radical reactions do in your bloodstream.
The traditional way to combat free radicals is to increase the amount of food rich in vitamins C, D, E, beta-carotene, selenium, and take antioxidant supplements.
...but now there's a new antioxidant on the block!
New Antioxidant discovered
Researchers report that high-intensity exercise - the Synergy Fitness type of fitness training - that produces lactic acid (the burning sensation in muscles during exercise) may need to be considered an "antioxidant agent" because of its ability to scavenge for free radicals. (Free radical scavenging and antioxidant effects of lactate ion: an in vitro study, 2000, Groussard).
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. When you reach an out-of-breath (anaerobic) state during exercise, the body tells the blood system to hunt for all the oxygen it can to pay back the oxygen debt.
By performing anaerobic exercise, you have done something to your body to make it automatically "scavenge" the blood system and seek out cells that could be oxidized.
Maybe this explains why I hear people say, "My body feels so clean after doing the Sprint 8 Workout." Perhaps they have zapped everything that could be oxidized.
Doesn't exercise cause free radicals?
Yes. Researchers report that exercise produces small amounts of free radicals. Remember, it is the "excessive" free radicals that are the trouble makers.
The free radicals produced during exercise actually "insults heart muscle," explain researchers. And this is positive. The "insult" causes the heart to develop what the researchers call an "adaptive response," which builds antioxidant defenses into heart muscle.
Researchers conclude, "Regular physical exercise may beneficially influence cardiac antioxidant defenses and promote overall cardiac function," (Physical exercise and antioxidant defenses in the heart, 1999, Atalay).
The Take Home
Don't give up the carrots or toss your antioxidant supplements. Just consider adding anaerobic workouts (after consulting your physician, of course) to your fitness plan.