Usually, when someone thinks about cutting out inflammation in their body, they immediately jump to diet and the foods they wait. This is for good reason! There is an endless amount of inflammatory foods ready and willing to spark the fire in our body that leads to chronic pain, weight gain, disease, and much more. But to truly manage inflammation in your body, you need to get on board with the anti-inflammatory lifestyle by focusing not just on the foods, but a few other elements, too!
Here's what I mean.
The Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle
Don't get me wrong, eating anti-inflammatory is probably one of the best things you can do for your body in terms of getting healthy. Anti-inflammatory foods (list below) can help to turn down the flames of chronic inflammation that if left unchecked can turn into obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, digestive disease, depression, arthritis and so much more.
Before I get to what you should eat to be at your best - and I've got a big list below - let's cover the basics of creating an entirely anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
Think of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle as four separate parts. We need to connect to each of these parts to make a whole. If we only meet our life a quarter, half or three-quarters of the way there, we're falling short. Consequentially, our bodies bear the brunt of it. You could have a meticulous diet but never get activity. You might workout every day but eat fast food most days of the week. Maybe you eat great and workout often enough but live on five hours of sleep. Or perhaps you've mastered the art of a great night of sleep, eat great and even exercise a little bit, but you have a hard time setting boundaries and overextend yourself with responsibilities when you should really just say no.
None of these scenarios is perfect. And quite frankly, it's impossible to be "perfect" 24/7. But each of these parts should be a priority. If you honed in and focused on making each of these parts happen in your life - even for just one week - you'd have the momentum to keep going.
Here's the breakdown in a little more detail.
Part 1: Foods
Whenever I work with someone who wants to get healthier and lose unhealthy body fat, they have to get their nutrition house in order first. There is almost no point in trying to shape up, lower cholesterol, decrease blood pressure, or manage pain from arthritis until you change your diet from inflammatory to anti-inflammatory.
If you don't address the foods, weight loss will be fleeting, aches and pains will stick around and you simply won't see the progress you want to see. You simply can't exercise away a bad diet.
Exercise is great! Don't get me wrong. I'm working up a sweat of some sort six times a week, but nothing can beat the way I feel after paying respect to my body by eating nutrient-dense foods that help to crush inflammation, keep digestion moving and simply brighten my day.
I have a big list of foods below (after all parts of our dinner party). The list is made up of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods. It's a good one with an option to print out and keep on your refrigerator for reference.
Part 2: Stress
Stress management is probably one of the most understated parts of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Chronic stress is invisible and can be easily disguised by defense mechanisms and forced smiles. But just because other people can't see the stress you're personally experiencing doesn't mean it's not happening to you and having an effect on the health of your body.
Managing stress doesn't mean that your life has to be a bed of roses. Acute stress almost guarantees there will be bumps in the road. Acute stress happens to us all but doesn't last for very long. Running late to an appointment or having a disagreement with a co-worker are examples of acute stress that are usually quickly resolved.
Chronic stress, however, is the type of stress that can really throw life out of whack and have long-term consequences on your overall health in a way that's similar to eating all the wrong foods.
Chronic stress can affect:
- immune function
- energy levels
- the ability to lose weight
- cardiovascular health
- symptoms of depression
Chronic stress doesn't just go away in the blink of an eye. Sometimes chronic stress is the result of circumstances beyond our control, such as long-term caregiving for an ill family member, living through a natural disaster, or financial insecurity due to job loss. In those uncontrollable circumstances, time, patience and consciously paying attention to personal health through proper diet, movement, and sleep can be helpful.
Healthy Boundaries = Decreased Stress
Chronic stress that's brought on through the inability to set personal boundaries, on the other hand, can always be better managed. It's all-too-common to want to please, say yes or be the "go-to-guy" that can make everything better. Occasionally, this is great! We could all use a little help. But when boundaries are strained for too long, stress levels go through the roof.
Taking on extra workloads, constantly inconveniencing yourself for others, or letting people walk all over you in personal relationships (romantic or otherwise), pushes your life out of alignment from what you should be doing, which is taking care of your own needs first. Certainly, there are exceptions. Parents, for example, will put the needs of their young children ahead of their own during the nurturing phase of life, which is appropriate and good. But as a general life rule, when you unload certain responsibilities to decrease stress, everything gets a little better and you have the time to do things to better yourself!
Part 3: Exercise
Coming from someone with a hybrid career in health and fitness, I've found that my clients love the workout aspect of getting healthy (in contrast to working on diet) because there is immediate gratification. I've never worked with a single person over the pasts 16 years who finished a workout and regretted it. No one. Ever.
Exercise has the ability to not just boost muscle tone and metabolism, but endorphins, too! We feel better mentally and physically when we exercise.
You don't have to train for a marathon or hit the gym every day. Essentially, all you have to do is move a little more. Exercising 20 to 30 minutes a day can lower blood pressure, increase insulin sensitivity (that's good!), improve bone strength, boost mobility, and, of course, reduce inflammation. All of which makes exercise a perfect part of the anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
A few examples of exercises that benefit you include:
- 20 - 30 minutes of walking or walking/jogging
- Yoga or pilates
- A good HIIT workout (check out the HIIT workout at the end of this article)
- Weight lifting
- Group fitness
Part 4: Sleep
As far as I'm concerned, sleep is food. But for the sake of this blog post, sleep is an incredibly important part of the anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
I recently read an article about how some people simply didn't need to sleep 7 to 8 hours a night; that all people are wired differently. After I delved into the article, it turns out that some people have an altered gene that allows them to feel pretty good without as much sleep. That being said, most people don't have the altered gene, so it's a safe bet to get a little more sleep.
The key thing to remember is when we sleep, our brain releases a copious amount of something human growth hormone (HGH). It's usually released at the front end of each sleep cycle. The average person should go through about five sleep cycles a night, bringing us right to eight hours of sleep.
HGH helps our body repair muscle tissue, metabolism fat, regulate insulin (our body's fat-storage hormone) and keep inflammation at bay. The markers of inflammation most notably affected by a lack of sleep include an increased risk of both type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Sleep also plays a direct role in the management of stress as well as strength and endurance.
In other words, if you don't make and effort to get a good night of sleep, insulin could be thrown off making you hungrier than normal, stress will be elevated and your strength and endurance will be lacking, making exercise much, much harder.
As the mom of three kids, I know that sleep is often a hot commodity. Sometimes we try to get sleep, but can't because of circumstances in our lives. If this is the case with you, just do your best. Get sleep when you can and your body will thank you or it.
Download this list and keep on your refrigerator, or Pin It and come back to it later.