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Does Cardio Produce Free Radicals?

author image Laura Niedziocha
Laura Niedziocha began her writing career in 2007. She has contributed material to the Stoneking Physical Therapy and Wellness Center in Lambertville, N.J., and her work has appeared in various online publications. Niedziocha graduated from Temple University with a Bachelor of Science in exercise science. She also has her Associate of Arts in communications from the Community College of Philadelphia.
Does Cardio Produce Free Radicals?
Although exercise produces free radicals, regular cardio improves the mechanism to neutralize them.

Free radicals are atoms, molecules or ions that have been oxidized and can begin a cascade of disease inside your body. Free radicals may help to develop degenerative diseases like cancer or heart disease. Antioxidants are your body's defense against free radical development. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, making them harmless. During exercise, your body takes both of these into account.

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Cardio and Free Radicals

Metabolism requires oxygen, which promotes the formation of free radicals. During exercise, your metabolic rate rises 10 to 15 times above what it is at rest. This rise increases oxygen delivery to your cells, thus increasing free radical production. The energy for cardiovascular exercise is primarily made through aerobic metabolism, meaning that cardio exercise does produce free radicals.


Your body has a way to counter-balance the effects of an increase in free radical production during exercise. Regular physical activity also promotes an increase in antioxidant enzyme production by the body. Training and improving your fitness enhances antioxidant enzyme production. The key to fighting off the free radicals during exercise is to exercise regularly and often.


According to a report presented by C. Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN, to the 43rd Annual American College of Sports Medicine Meeting, athletes would be wise to take antioxidant supplementation after intense training. Andersen's study analyzed 16 males between the ages of 18 to 34. All 16 ran for 30 minutes at 80 percent of their max and ended the workout with a sprint to volitional fatigue. Afterward, some were fed an antioxidant-rich energy bar while others received a placebo. Blood testing analysis revealed that those who took the antioxidant supplementation had greater antioxidant enzymes and lower exercise-induced oxidative stress. Andersen suggests that any athlete working under strenuous, high-intensity conditions supplement his workout with antioxidants.

Expert Insight

For the average person, a regular exercise program coupled with a healthy and well-balanced diet should be enough to fight off excess free radicals from cardio exercise. Taking a multivitamin can help the body produce the antioxidant enzymes it needs to keep free radicals at bay. Before starting any new exercise program or taking a multivitamin supplement, contact your physician for approval.

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