Inflammation is the body's natural response against injury and infection, and part of a healthy immune system—but at a certain point it can be too much of a good thing. Chronic inflammation is linked to a host of health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and diabetes. If you want to reduce inflammation and improve your health, here are five science and research-backed ways to do it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Exercise to Reduce Inflammation
Regular exercise is incredibly effective when it comes to reducing inflammation—even a gentle workout can make a difference. "Each time we exercise, we are truly doing something good for our body on many levels, including at the immune cell level," says Suzi Hong, PhD, from the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine. "The anti-inflammatory benefits of exercise have been known to researchers, but finding out how that process happens is the key to safely maximizing those benefits. Our study shows a workout session doesn't actually have to be intense to have anti-inflammatory effects. Twenty minutes to half-an-hour of moderate exercise, including fast walking, appears to be sufficient."
Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
According to Harvard Health, diet has a significant impact on reducing inflammation in the body. Here is what it advises you should—and just as importantly, what you shouldn't—be eating to avoid or reduce inflammation. Foods that fight inflammation:
Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collards
Nuts like almonds and walnuts
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines
Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges
Foods that cause inflammation (avoid them!):
Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries
French fries and other fried foods
Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
Red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage)
Margarine, shortening, and lard
"Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects," says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. "Some of the foods that have been associated with an increased risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease are also associated with excess inflammation. It's not surprising, since inflammation is an important underlying mechanism for the development of these diseases."
Get Enough Sleep
The CDC recommends adults get at least seven hours of sleep a night for optimum health. Sleep and inflammation are directly correlated—lack of sleep can make inflammation worse, whereas getting adequate rest can help the body fight inflammation. "The closer that we look at sleep, the more that we learn about the benefits of sleeping.. sleep deprivation is associated with enhancement of pro-inflammatory processes in the body," says John H. Krystal, M.D., Editor of Biological Psychiatry and affiliated with both Yale University School of Medicine and the VA Connecticut Healthcare System.
"Physical and psychological stress brought on in part by grinding work, school and social schedules is keeping millions of Americans up at night," says Michael Irwin, MD, director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the Semel Institute. "America's sleep habits are simply not healthy. Our findings suggest even modest sleep loss may play a role in common disorders that affect sweeping segments of the population."
Manage Your Stress
Research shows that chronic stress interferes with the body's ability to regulate inflammation, which is why managing stress—for example through exercise, therapy, or meditation—is so important for overall health. "Inflammation is partly regulated by the hormone cortisol and when cortisol is not allowed to serve this function, inflammation can get out of control," says Sheldon Cohen, Robert E. Doherty Professor of Psychology within Carnegie Mellon University's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. "The immune system's ability to regulate inflammation predicts who will develop a cold, but more importantly it provides an explanation of how stress can promote disease. When under stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond to hormonal control, and consequently, produce levels of inflammation that promote disease. Because inflammation plays a role in many diseases such as cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders, this model suggests why stress impacts them as well. Knowing this is important for identifying which diseases may be influenced by stress and for preventing disease in chronically stressed people."
Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
Being obese or overweight is linked with chronic inflammation, and losing weight can help reduce it. "We know from our previous studies that by losing weight, people can reduce their overall levels of inflammation, and there is some evidence suggesting that taking vitamin D supplements can have a similar effect if one has insufficient levels of the nutrient," says Catherine Duggan, Ph.D., a principal staff scientist in the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutch.