“Inflammation” has become the newest buzzword in the health community, but what does it really mean? Inflammation is your body’s way of combating foreign invaders (like germs) and injuries (cuts, scrapes, sports injuries, and so on). It’s a normal response in the body, that contributes to healing.

However, sometimes your body’s inflammation response is triggered repeatedly over time, to the point that it never “turns off”. Long-term inflammation can contribute to diseases such as asthma, skin problems, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and even cancer. The short version of the story is that inflammation can be a good, helpful thing on a short-term basis, but a very bad thing if it is left unchecked for long periods of time.

So why do some of us experience chronic inflammation that does not abate? In many cases, inflammation is linked to your diet and exercise (or, more accurately, lack of exercise). To reduce inflammation in the body and protect yourself from disease, you should take steps to address both of these factors.

The average American diet includes too much processed sugar, salt, saturated fat, and trans fats, and is deficient in healthy fats, vitamins, and anti-oxidants. To address dietary issues that lead to chronic inflammation, reduce the amount of those harmful agents in your diet (often through packaged foods and fast food) and eat more of the following:

  • healthy fats from nuts like walnuts and almonds, salmon, and olive oil
  • fruits and vegetables (french fries don’t count)
  • whole grains
  • dark chocolate – yes, really, but only in small amounts!

As for exercise, to quote the Nike company, just do it! A sedentary lifestyle and the resulting weight gain trigger an inflammatory response in the body, and exercise will address both of those problems. Exercise can also help reduce stress, another important factor in inflammation. If you work at a desk, get up once per hour for a short walk or some stretching.  Try to exercise at least thirty minutes per day (although an hour is better), even if you can’t fit it all into one session. Remember, walking to work, performing yard work, and other daily activities can count as exercise. You don’t have to do it all at the gym.

It might be helpful to view your health as a matter of energy, and inflammation as a response to inappropriate use of energy. The foods you eat contain energy, and your activities expend energy. Adjust your habits so that your energy intake and output occur via healthier avenues, and you can fight disease by reducing inflammation in your body.