The word “inflammation” may sound scary, but in reality, inflammation serves a beneficial purpose: to help heal injuries and fight off germs that make us sick. Chronic inflammation, however, can lead to serious, long-term health problems. Here’s how to reduce inflammation and help balance your body’s inflammatory response.

  1. Eat anti-inflammatory foods: Foods like cold water fish, walnuts and flax seeds are high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation.
  2. Exercise: The benefits of physical activity are endless, and a recent study shows just 20 minutes of exercise is enough to reduce inflammation.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight: Excess weight can put extra stress on your joints, and fat tissue creates and releases inflammation-causing chemicals—a dangerous combo.
  4. Manage stress: Research shows that stress affects the body’s ability to regulate the inflammatory response. The science is a bit complex, but simply, the more stress you feel, the more inflammation your body produces (which increases your risk for certain diseases).
  5. Meditate: One way to manage stress is to meditate, which may help explain why “mind-body therapies” (meditation, yoga, tai chi) reduce markers of inflammation.
  6. Sleep more: Never underestimate the power of a good night’s rest. Loss of sleep, even for a few hours during the night, can trigger an inflammatory response.
  7. Enjoy the sunshine: A nutritional sciences researcher found that even in healthy women, vitamin D deficiency is associated with inflammation. Just be sure to wear sunscreen when you’re catching some rays!
  8. Get a massage: For some, massage is a form of self-care, or a treat. But massage has many health benefits, including lowering your levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
  9. Avoid smoking: According to Paul Ridker, M.D., smoking puts “tremendous inflammatory pressure on the lungs” (not to mention all of the other health risks associated with smoking).
  10. Limit alcohol: Because alcohol may also contribute to inflammation, women should limit their intake to no more than one alcoholic drink per day, and men should limit their intake to no more than two.

Treat Inflammation Topically

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