The proinflammatory effects of chronic excessive exercise

Cytokine. 2019 Jul;119:57-61. doi: 10.1016/j.cyto.2019.02.016. Epub 2019 Mar 15.


Chronic moderate-intensity exercise is an efficient non-pharmacological strategy to prevent and treat several diseases such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, cancers, and Parkinson's disease. On the other hand, improving an athlete's performance requires completing high-intensity and volume exercise sessions. When the delicate balance between high-load exercise sessions and adequate recovery periods is disrupted, excessive training (known as overtraining) can lead to performance decline. The cytokine hypothesis considers that an imbalance involving excessive exercise and inadequate recovery induces musculoskeletal trauma, increasing the production and release of proinflammatory cytokines, mainly interleukin 6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), and interleukin 1beta (IL-1beta), which interact with different organic systems, initiating most of the signs and symptoms linked to performance decrement. This leading article used recent data to discuss the scientific basis of Smith's cytokine theory and highlighted that the adverse effects of excessive exercise go beyond performance decline, proposing a multi-organ approach for this issue. These recent insights will allow coaches and exercise physiologists to develop strategies to avoid chronic excessive exercise-induced adverse outcomes.

Keywords: Endoplasmic reticulum stress; Hepatic fat accumulation; Inflammation; Insulin signaling pathway; Overtraining; Pathological cardiac hypertrophy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Inflammation / physiopathology*
  • Teaching


  • Cytokines