The trick to staying fit is fighting free radicals says Konika Luke| Fitness Columnist | Group Fitness Training Specialist

Blog by : Konika Luke

When one hears the term radical, one immediately thinks of terrorists and extremists. They pose a great risk to our lives. The body is also under constant attack from an invisible enemy. Free radicals are a big threat to our health. They are the cause of many diseases as well as aging.


What are free radicals?                  

Free radicals are a by-product of normal cell function. When cells create energy, they produce unstable molecules. A free radical is a molecule that is missing at least one electron. Thus it becomes negatively charged. Like most things in nature, free radicals seek to remain neutral. So they steal electrons from healthy molecules. Thereby new free radicals are formed. This chain reaction damages thousands of cells along its path.
Production of free radicals in the body is continuous and inescapable. The basic causes are:

    A number of metabolic processes take place in the body continuously. In these processes free radicals are thrown off as by products.


    The pressures of daily life today trigger the body’s stress hormone response. Stress hormones like cortisol and catecholamines degenerate into free radicals. A highly stressful life mass produces free radicals.


    Environmental pollutants like smog and cigarette smoke generate free radical molecules. Most of the food we eat contains chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides. They produce free radicals when we ingest them.


    Immune system cells deliberately create free radicals as weapons for the body.






Despite the problems caused, free radicals are very much needed in a healthy human body. The immune system uses the destructive power of free radicals. Certain cells in these systems engulf the bacteria or the viruses. They take up oxygen molecule from the blood stream, remove an electron to create more free radicals. This is effective in protecting the body against infectious organisms.
However the process should not go out of control. Otherwise it can cause damage to the body.




Exercise increases metabolism. Metabolism requires oxygen. This promotes the formation of free radicals.

If exercise produced free radicals, why do studies associate exercise with longevity?

The good news is regular physical activity also promotes the production of anti oxidant enzymes in the body. They work as radical scavengers. They donate an electron and neutralize them. Hence they do not need to destroy healthy cells any more. The body is quite efficient in eliminating most of the radicals. The more one exercises, more the body turns into a strong fortress.
Free radicals at least have two important functions. First they fight off invading functions. Second, they actually signal muscle cells to make adaptive changes to exercise. Most exercise induced free radicals never leave the muscle. They never get to the tissues and organs where they are known to damage. This is called the “Training Effect ”



The body maintains a radical defense system, also known as the antioxidant system.


ENZYMES: This is the body’s bomb squad. The antioxidant enzymes defuse the free radicals by changing their former.


NUTRIENTS: Second line of defense the body uses is the vitamins and other nutrients which provide an electron to the free radical.


SELF REPAIR: The body has systems to repair or replace damaged cells.





It is not necessary to reduce free radicals to zero. The body needs to strike the right balance between the number of free radicals generated and the defense mechanism.
Eating a well balanced diet with plenty of different colored fresh fruits and vegetables will optimize antioxidant intake. Including wide variety of nutrients will protect against free radical formation.


The key to fighting off the free radicals during exercise is to exercise regularly and often.


Take care of your body and the body will take care of you.



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