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Being fit dulls pain

If you are plagued by pain you could consider taking up running, cycling or rowing. The fitter you are, the better you can withstand pain, according to neurologists at the University of New South Wales.

Being fit dulls pain

Being fit dulls pain
In the early 1990s scientists discovered that men with a sedentary lifestyle were better able to withstand pain if they cycled moderately intensively three times a week. [J Sports Sci. 1994 Dec;12(6):535-47.]

Strength training has no effect on pain tolerance however, according to the researchers, but men who cycled and did weight training were just as resilient to pain as men who only cycled.

Experimental setup
The researchers at the University of New South Wales took another good look at the effect of aerobic training on pain tolerance. They got a dozen students to cycle at an intensity of 75 percent of their maximal heart rate, for half an hour 3 times a week for 6 weeks.

A control group did not cycle.

Before starting training and afterwards the subjects had to squeeze hand grippers while the researchers had bound a strap around their upper arm to restrict the blood supply.

Less pain
The longer the bars in the graphs below, the longer the subjects could keep squeezing. The darker the colour of a bar, the more pain the students reported.

Click on the figure for a larger version.

Being fit dulls pain

The subjects who had cycled were able to keep the gripper squeezed for longer, and this was because they were better able to withstand the pain.

When the researchers measured the amount that the subjects' oxygen uptake capacity had increased or decreased, they saw that an increase in capacity was correlated with an increase in the amount of time that the students could keep the spring squeezed.

Being fit dulls pain

"The results from this study demonstrated that 6 weeks of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise training increased pain tolerance in healthy individuals", the researchers conclude. "This demonstration that exercise may influence pain sensitivity independently of disease provides new insight into how some clinical populations with low exercise tolerance and capacity may benefit from aerobic training."

"Increasing pain tolerance in these patients through regular aerobic training may facilitate more exercise as well as exercise at a higher intensity, which may provide greater clinical benefits."

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 Aug;46(8):1640-7.

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