Now that Part 1 sufficiently scared you, Part 2 will provide you with action steps to heal your gut and reduce the chronic inflammation.
Before we dive in to the practical changes that you can make, we need to make sure you have a sound foundation upon which to make your life upgrades. That starts with beliefs and mindset.
Beliefs. The first thing that we need before making changes is to check our belief system. Do you believe that you are worthy of making these changes? Positive changes are not always immediately welcomed by friends and family because it can sometimes threatened their negative lifestyle habits. But, this is about them; it is not about you. The belief piece is crucial if you want the rest of the changes to stick. After modifying the belief so you feel deserving and worthy of these changes, you may also need to modify your support system. Many are trying to live a healthy, less inflamed life. You might have to look beyond your immediate family, co-workers, and current circle of friends. The good news is that those people are out there, and with social media, it is easier to find groups of people and events to support your healthy changes.
Mindset. You don’t have to change everything, but you can. You can start by adding a little bit of anti-inflammatory food to each meal and snack will add up over the course of days/weeks/months/years. You can take three minutes to meditate each day. All or nothing thinking doesn’t work for many people, so shifting your mindset to take things slowly can greatly benefit you. Also, you need to believe that you are worthy of making changes to your diet and lifestyle to reduce inflammation and get healthier.
View the following lifestyle upgrades as a menu, and choose the ones that work best for you now. You don't have to implement everything to see an improvement in your inflammation. Adding one or two and using them consistently will improve your health in a BIG way.
Sugar, especially processed sugar, and unhealthy omega 6 fats are the worst for inflammation. If you did nothing else but cut out sugar and omega 6 fatty acids, your inflammatory load would plummet.
These foods increase leaky gut and inflammation in the body:
- Refined foods
- Processed and poor oils (e.g., canola and vegetable)
- Conventionally raised meats (with antibiotics)
- Pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables
- Excessive alcohol
- Processed meats
These foods reduce inflammation: EVERYTHING THAT IS REAL. Real, whole-foods know how to be broken down in your body. Although eating whole foods is better than any processed foods, there are a number of whole-foods who are especially bad-a$$ when it comes to reducing inflammation:
- Green tea
- Dark chocolate
- Leafy green vegetables like kale and bok choy
- Olive oil
SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP is so foundational to health. You can pour olive oil on your kale and savor salmon til the cows come home, but if your sleep sucks, your diet won’t matter much. Despite it being a natural function, sleep, or at least quality sleep, is elusive for many. Research recommends 7-8 hours of sleep per night. To set yourself up for that, adopt some (or all if you are feeling it) of these sleep hygiene strategies:
- Develop a bedtime routine – we do this for kids…why?? Because it works! It doesn’t have to be complicated…maybe a cup of herbal tea, a few minutes of reading or journaling, and the turning off the lights.
- Turn off the devices at least 2 hours before bed. Blue light from electronic devices disrupts the circadian rhythm. That means that blue light is telling your body to stay awake. Blue light blocking glasses can work if you absolutely must work on your computer. Most phones have programs that reduce blue light for times that you determine.
- Just say NO to caffeine after noon. The body’s ability to process caffeine is genetically determined. So some people, like my husband, can have an espresso or two after dinner and zonk out a few hours later. Others, like me, wouldn’t be able to sleep with a cup of coffee at lunch. Play around with it for yourself, but start with no caffeine after noon and work from there.
- Morning light. Exposing yourself to morning light helps to reset your circadian rhythm. Morning light tells your body to stop producing melatonin (the sleep-inducing hormone), and it also feels energizing.
Sitting on the couch and not exercising increases inflammation, and perhaps surprisingly, exercising too much at too intense of a pace can also increase inflammation. So, what’s the best type of exercise and activity? The one that you enjoy doing and will do regularly. Walking is great as both a part of regular exercise and walking more during your daily activities. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great bang for your buck. HIIR effectively stimulates your muscles to release these anti-inflammatory myokines, which increase your insulin sensitivity and glucose use inside your muscles. They also increase liberation of fat from adipose cells, and the burning of the fat within the skeletal muscle. Acting as chemical messengers, myokines also inhibit the release and the effect of inflammatory cytokines produced by body fat.
The Goldilocks principal goes into effect for managing inflammation through exercise. Regular daily activity is the best way to reduce inflammation. We all know that a sedentary lifestyle is a no-go. It’s not good for your mental or physical health. But, to gain benefits from activity/exercise, you don’t need to go to the gym…you can lift weights, walk, practice yoga, engage in Pilates, etc. In fact, going to the gym and pushing yourself too often with too much of any type of exercise – cardio, crossfit, weight-lifting, etc. can be very damaging. For evidence, look no further than marathon runners who die of heart attacks. Heart attacks can be caused by inflammation in the body, arteries, and veins. There is too much of a good thing. So, stick with the Goldilocks Principle and engage in the amount of exercise that is JUST RIGHT!
Social isolation causes inflammation. One of the best predictors of longevity is the strength of social connections. Social connections have been shown to boost immunity in recovering from a cold to healing cancer. Focus on quality over quantity. 500 Facebook friends doesn’t mean squat if you don’t have anyone you can count on in your life or girlfriends/guy-friends who make you laugh.
Self-care is about a lot more than getting a massage. The most important part of self-care is stress management. Cortisol (in small doses-e.g., corticosteroids like prednisone) is a buffer against inflammation. When your body is in a chronically stressed state, your cells become resistant to cortisol’s message to reduce inflammation, thus putting the body in a chronically inflamed state. You can reduce stress by first rethinking how you think about stress. So much of stress is about perception. A situation is only as stressful as you perceive it to be. And much of perception has to do with your resiliency and the number of other positive resources you have in your life. I once asked my graduate school research mentor how he dealt with the stress in his life. His answer was that he didn’t get stressed. I stared at him, dumb-founded. He was a consultant/coach on mindfulness and performance to top athletes, he taught medical students, he was running grant-funded research, he was a father, he was a husband, and he was an amazing mentor. He truly practiced what he taught—mindfulness and meditation changed the way he perceived the environment, removed the clutter and chatter in his brain, and allowed him to not just be in the moment without stress but to ENJOY each moment.
Self-care is important because it reduces stress. Stress causes increases in cortisol which increases inflammation. Taking care of yourself is a choice. If you don’t prioritize self-care, you are choosing inflammation over health. Self-care is not selfish, and it doesn’t have to take much time. If you don’t prioritize self-care, you are choosing inflammation over health. Self-care is not selfish, and it doesn’t have to take much time.
Here are some easy self-care options:
- Practice mindfulness
- Volunteer and giving back
- Random acts of kindness
Spending time in nature. You know that feeling you get when you see a beautiful lush green mountain or when you hear the sound of water—waves lapping at the beach, a creek trickling by, or the rain pouring down…that is all therapeutic. Those sights and sounds trigger the parasympathetic response in your body, cuing your body to relax and thus reducing cortisol and inflammation. You don’t have to live in the woods in a teepee (although that would be cool for a few days) to get the benefits. You can take a walk in a park, go barefoot in the grass in your backyard, plant a garden on your acres of land or in your window box. Nature heals.
From 2004 to 2012, Japanese officials spent about $4 million dollars studying the physiological and psychological effects of forest bathing, designating 48 therapy trails based on the results. Qing Li, a professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, measured the activity of human natural killer (NK) cells in the immune system before and after exposure to the woods. These cells provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells and respond to tumor formation, and are associated with immune system health and cancer prevention. In a 2009 study Li’s subjects showed significant increases in NK cell activity in the week after a forest visit, and positive effects lasted a month following each weekend in the woods.
This is due to various essential oils, generally called phytoncide, found in wood, plants, and some fruit and vegetables, which trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects. Forest air doesn’t just feel fresher and better—inhaling phytoncide seems to actually improve immune system function.
Take the strategies that are most useful to you, and put them into action. Change them when you need to, and make them fun. Your attitude is everything!
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