Many things are “anti” — we have anti-cancer therapies, anti-missile defenses, and anti-hunger campaigns. The prefix “anti” means opposed to or against. Then there are things that are compete opposites: hot is the opposite of cold, and light is the opposite of dark. They are more than opposed to their opposite — they simply can’t exist together, because the one replaces the other.

We know that there are many advantages to exercise. It is in itself anti-diabetes, anti-cancer, anti-many things. It certainly could be called anti-stress. But could it be called the opposite of stress? Given what chronic stress does to the body, and what exercise does that is the reverse of those effects, it could be argued that exercise is the opposite of stress.

Exercise is technically a stress by itself. It forces your metabolism up as it demands more oxygen and nutrients. It causes some muscle breakdown temporarily. It suppresses digestion during the exercise. So it seems on the surface that it is similar to chronic stress, which also drives up metabolism, causes some cellular breakdown, fouls digestion — so is it really different? Yes, but we have to look under the surface.

The harbinger of disease
What inevitably precedes disease? Ironically, it comes from the same system that is designed to protect you from disease — your immune system. Inflammation, which is meant to be a healing mechanism, precedes disease. Temporary inflammation, such as from a wound, is indeed healing, but when it becomes chronic, it tears down. The process of inflammation is quite rough on cells, even healthy ones, and if sustained long term, will destroy instead of heal. Stress tells the immune system to activate and do its healing work, but chronic stress does not provide a specific target for the healing, so the process locks on and does damage, causing more inflammation to heal the new damage — this is a vicious circle of inflammation.

Exercise also activates the immune system. If you could somehow maintain exercise long enough, you would also do damage. You may be able to maintain chronic stress continually, but not exercise. The workout ends, and you will rest. It is possible to over-exercise, but it’s rare, while chronic stress is common. Is exercise the opposite of chronic stress? They both use the immune system in different ways, with very different results.

The multi-facetted immune system
Remember the early days of COVID and the “cytokine storm”, which was cited as a reason for some of the deaths? The virus multiplied so rapidly that the immune system went on full alert, doing major damage to the patient, so much that the immune system became a greater threat to the patient’s life than the virus activity itself. Cytokines became a popular term in those days, and we heard that the cytokine storm had to be reduced to save some patients, but did we ever learn what a cytokine is?

Cytokines are just signaling proteins. They don’t attack anything, but they tell immune cells what to do. Many of the cytokines are inflammatory; that is, they signal immune cells to attack. The cytokine storm is a massive rush of inflammatory cytokines, usually in response to a foreign invader, but can also be due to trauma or medical treatments such as immunotherapy. However, there are some anti-inflammatory cytokines that tell the immune system to settle down. But it’s not even that simple, because IL-6 is considered inflammatory in some contexts but anti-inflammatory in others.

For signals to work, they have to be received. Cells have receptors that are keyed to work with specific proteins. There are the various types of cells that make up the immune system that respond to cytokine and other signals. These also can be classified as inflammatory or anti-inflammatory, or both depending upon the context. For example, macrophages can cause inflammation while attacking an infection, but can reduce inflammation when they gobble up cellular debris that are inflammatory if left alone.

When we consider inflammation, we re looking at a signaling and cellular system which is very context-sensitive. Chronic stress is a context that drives the system to inflame. Exercise acts in many ways as the opposite of chronic stress, and despite the sore muscles it causes, exercise is anti-inflammatory.

Stress and eustress
Although exercise is stress, it is classified as a good, or “eu” stress. It acts very differently in the body than does other stress. All stress challenges the body, because stress is pressure to change. If you stress a rubber band, it elongates in response. If you stress muscles, you cause them to break down a bit, only to be rebuilt stronger. The muscles stress your bones to which they are attached, and this stress causes internal rebuilding of the bones that is stronger than before. Yes, the stress can be excessive, tearing muscle and breaking bones, but it is eustress so long as it does not do long term damage.

Our reaction to stress is the “fight or flight” syndrome, where the body prepares for one of those outcomes, either of which requires physical activity. But when the stress is chronic and the fight or flight has no outlet, it festers and causes damage. Exercise gives chronic stress an outlet, at least for a period of time, where the stress is in sync with the bodily activity. So in this sense, exercise and stress are partners, with exercise compensating for the demands of the stress. Imagine a car where both the gas pedal and brake are pressed down. The car goes nowhere but the engine is under stress. Now release one of the pedals, and the car is in sync.

The immune connection
In your body, your immune system is everywhere, including your muscles. Here we see major differences between what chronic stress causes and how exercise promotes the opposite. Chronic stress wastes away whereas exercise builds up. In a study published in Medical Sciences (Basel, Switzerland), researchers conducted animal studies to determine the effects of chronic stress on the musculoskeletal system. They saw significant reductions in bone mineral density, skeletal muscle mass, and grip strength from chronic stress. The animals showed increased expression of REDD1 (regulated in development and DNA damage responses 1), which is a stress-induced protein that controls (signals instructions to) a number of metabolic functions, including inflammation, oxidative stress responses, and cell death or survival. Its primary connection with muscle atrophy is that it inhibits mTORC1 (mammalian targets of rapamycin complex 1) which in turn senses and controls protein synthesis, necessary for rebuilding muscle tissue. These changes in signaling proteins result in wasting away of muscle tissue. The study summary stated: “Taken together, these results indicate that chronic stress promotes muscle atrophy by inhibiting mammalian targets of rapamycin complex 1 activity due to the upregulation of its inhibitor, REDD1.”

Context is key
In contrast, exercise promotes the building of muscle tissue and bone density. To understand how this ties in with the immune system, we consider a special class of cytokines called “myokines.” During muscular contractions, myokines are synthesized and released. Over 600 myokines have been discovered, but the most studied is IL-6 (interleukin 6), which is usually associated with immune system reaction to infections and also immune system activation from chronic stress. Blood tests showing elevated IL-6 levels generally point to stress or disease. This is where context is very important: IL-6 released due to exercise is positive and anti-inflammatory. IL-6 in the context of exercise is quite different than in the context of stress.

Remember that cytokines, and therefore myokines, are signaling proteins. In exercise, what are they signaling? They control the immune system, particularly regulatory T cells (Tregs), which are critical in muscle function, regeneration, and repair. They also tie in with reducing obesity and type 2 diabetes. Tregs have IL-6 receptors (IL6Rs) which allow them to listen and respond to IL-6 signals. To better understand the function of Tregs and myokines in the “immune-muscle crosstalk”, researchers from the German Center for Diabetes and the German Institute of Human Nutrition conducted an animal study published in Cell Metabolism. They showed that Tregs are vital to muscle function and rejuvenation, and when Treg levels were depleted in the animals, muscle atrophy would occur. And they showed that IL-6 drove Treg activation and activity. As explained in the study, “In the context of muscle-immune crosstalk, IL6 functions as a critical myokine released in response to exercise. In contrast to its pro-inflammatory role in obesity-associated metabolic disease, intramuscular IL6 signaling upon exercise has been indicated to lack activation of pro-inflammatory pathways such as TNF-a and IL-1b but rather involves anti-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-10.”

So IL-6, often associated with inflammation, when expressed due to exercise, is anti-inflammatory. This is basically the opposite of the chronic stress reaction, which is inflammatory. Inflammation, being so powerful and prone to cause collateral damage to healthy nearby cells, is carefully regulated in the body, with pro and anti-inflammatory signals constantly changing in response to the body’s environment. Suppressing inflammation which is there for a good reason, such as to heal a wound or deal with infection, is going to also suppress healing. But suppressing inflammation that is due to chronic stress, which is at much too high a level for most of us, is healthful through natural means such as exercise.

Your body is intricately balanced in so many ways, and your body also has to deal with constantly shifting balance points due to the changing challenges that you present it as you go through life. You are living in a society and a period in history where chronic stress levels are very high. Whether it is the opposite of stress or just a counteracting eustress, exercise is absolutely necessary to keep your balance healthful. Exercise simply isn’t optional.


Dr. Nemec’s Review

Let’s go into this deeper the concept of opposing or against versus opposite.

If we looked at it in percentages, then to oppose or to be against something, you would have to give a percentage or degree, like “I oppose this situation 75% or 95%.” On the other hand, opposite means 100% all the time: 99% is opposing while 100% is opposite. This is very important to understand because most people oppose things in their lives by a certain percentage, but they won’t lay their lives down to come against the situation. To put your life and everything that you are on the line means you are truly opposite: that why it’s always 100% — it doesn’t ever change.

What is the opposite of darkness?

What’s the opposite of disease?

What’s the opposite of death?

What is the opposite of stress?

So there are two ways to counter stress in the mind-body complex. The first way is to do things that oppose stress, that come against it. This is the easier of the two. The second way is to do the complete opposite.

Exercise counters stress
One of the best physical lifestyle changes that can be implemented to oppose stress, or we could say to counter stress, is exercise. It’s very simple, very easy to do if you want to oppose, counter, and come against stress: all you have to do is exercise every day with various types of exercises, making sure that you don’t deplete the body — otherwise the exercise itself becomes a stress as the Switzerland researchers found.

We see this with marathon runners versus sprinters. Marathon runners train with a tremendous amount of miles which breaks down tissue and it is a stress to the body, as you can see by their body types: they are very thin and they have very little muscle mass. Studies have been done on long distance running that show that it actually increases the chance of cardiovascular disease. The only reason it would do this is because it is stressing the heart with too much of a good thing.

Sprinters, on the other hand, do high intensity and short duration exercises, which actually stimulates the heart and body to make them stronger, to make them healthier.

The double edged sword
Your immune system, as with everything in life, is reading the environment around you at one point in time, and immune cells secrete inflammatory cytokine messaging molecules to start a reaction; and then at another point in time, as the environment changes, the same immune cells can secrete anti-inflammatory cytokines, thereby messaging molecules to stop a reaction. The environment controls the immune response — and when we say environment, we mean mental, emotional, and physical environment. All these are being processed as potential stressors affecting your system.

No immune cell is permanently pro-inflammatory or permanently anti-inflammatory: most of them do both depending on the circumstance and the environment.

6 Greatest Stressors on the Immune System
So if everything comes down to the environment and stress, then what are greatest environmental stressors that we need to control?

  1. Subconscious stress programs, ages 0 to 6, written on brain tissue as a program
  2. Conscious stress programs, ages six to present, written on brain tissue as a program
  3. Unconscious stress of the people and the world around you. This is you being affected by the people you spend time with.
  4. Conscious stress of life, of your job, of your situation, of where you’re at in life
  5. Lack of activity, lack of movement, lack of exercise
  6. Poor diet: consuming pro inflammatory foods instead of anti-inflammatory foods

Once you remove the stressors in all six categories, then and only then can you heal and be in the highest level of health. It’s not about one stressor, it’s not about one thing — it’s a life and a lifestyle that causes stress to your system. You must change your life, you must change your lifestyle, and you must release and reprogram all subconscious, unconscious, and conscious stressors to be all that you were created to be.

This has been our approach at Revolution New Medicine for the last 40 years. It’s never about just one thing. It’s a culmination of everything that is stressing your mind-emotion-body complex, and by removing these stressors so your environment changes, your mental, emotional, and physical environment changes so they do not perceive stress anymore.

The second and greater way to address stress in your life
Become the opposite, become the peace in the midst of chaos, become the calm in the midst of the storm.

How do I do this? Where do I start?
You start with the first 6 ways to address the stress in your life. You work on the six greatest stressors of the immune system.

And as these release, you gain an awareness and understanding that you never had before. You can see things with a different light. You can step through a different door to a whole New World — but you must first correct the six greatest stressors to gain access to that door.

So start exercising today, and every day, the rest of your life. This is the first step — and remember: the journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step. So make sure you take that step today.

(1) Fushimi S, Nohno T, Katsuyama H. Chronic Stress Induces Type 2b Skeletal Muscle Atrophy via the Inhibition of mTORC1 Signaling in Mice. Med Sci (Basel). 2023 Feb 10;11(1):19. doi: 10.3390/medsci11010019. PMID: 36810486; PMCID: PMC9944114.

(2) Maike Becker, Sini S. Joseph, Francisco Garcia-Carrizo, Robby Z. Tom, Daria Opaleva, Isabelle Serr, Matthias H. Tschöp, Tim J. Schulz, Susanna M. Hofmann, Carolin Daniel. Regulatory T cells require IL6 receptor alpha signaling to control skeletal muscle function and regeneration. Cell Metabolism, 2023; DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2023.08.010,