For all its benefit fighting off an infection or healing an injury, inflammation also has a dark side. Problems arise when this helpful physiological process doesn’t know when to quit. The result is chronic low-level inflammation throughout the body that not only increases the risk of a myriad of diseases but also accelerates aging.
While a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods and supplements such as andrographis, curcumin, and French grape seed extract can definitely help extinguish this internal fire, a healthy lifestyle is just as important. Here are six habits that can help reduce inflammation and put you on the road to better health.
- Avoid smoke and other airborne pollutants. Even if you’ve never smoked, exposure to secondhand smoke—as well as smog and the toxins in household products—can increase systemic inflammation. One study that appeared in the Journal of Immunology notes that exposure to secondhand smoke, in particular, not only sparks inflammation but also impairs your body’s natural defenses against respiratory infections and diseases.
- Exercise often. Adopting a regular exercise program encourages healthy cell function and helps keep inflammation in check. Recent research out of the University of California, San Diego, shows that even one session of moderate exercise can have powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. But to truly get the most out of your workouts, strive to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise, per week. Studies also show that the best types of exercise to reduce inflammation include bodyweight exercises (e.g., push-ups, squats), swimming, and walking.
- Mind your dental health. Poor dental hygiene can lead to periodontal disease. This, in turn, can create widespread inflammation throughout the body. Dentists recommend brushing your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and flossing at least once a day to remove plaque left behind after brushing. Replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if needed. It’s also important to schedule regular checkups with your dentist every six months.
- Rein in stress. Chronic stress begets chronic inflammation by encouraging a steady stream of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Over time, this can cause a dysfunction in your nervous and endocrine systems. The result is simmering inflammation that can spread throughout the body. Meditation, exercise, and breathwork have been clinically found to be effective stress busters.
- Sleep well. According to Harvard researchers, blood vessels relax and blood pressure drops during sleep. But when you shortchange your sleep time or you don’t sleep well, your blood pressure doesn’t go down as it should. This triggers cells in your blood vessels that activate inflammation. Research in the journal Frontiers in Neurology notes that this is especially true for women. Strive to get between seven and nine hours of good-quality sleep per night.
- Watch your weight. Did you know that excess weight triggers the production of several pro-inflammatory immune cells called cytokines inside your fat cells? This low-level inflammation changes the way your body responds to insulin. This is likely why so many overweight and obese people suffer from type 2 diabetes. Because one of the biggest drivers of weight gain is ultra-processed food, consider switching to a healthier way of eating—one that trades in processed food for high-quality lean protein, healthy fats, and plenty of nonstarchy vegetables.