We all know practicing law can be stressful. And we’ve heard about the physical and mental problems that can arise with chronic stress. One problem chronic stress can cause — or exacerbate — is often overlooked. And that’s too bad, especially since it is arguably the No. 1 health problem in the U.S.: It’s chronic inflammation.
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These Five Lifestyle Changes Can Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation in the body isn’t always bad. It can be our immune system’s acute response to injury or infection that brings in an army of white blood cells that fight infection and heal. The problem with inflammation is when it hangs around long after an injury or infection or when it is triggered when there is no infection. This long-term response is referred to as chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation persists over time and doesn’t work to heal the body. Instead, it leads to a whole host of health problems, including heart disease, arthritis, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Why? Because chronic inflammation can wear down the immune system, leading to diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Fortunately, we can reduce chronic inflammation with simple lifestyle changes. Here’s how.
1. Prioritize Restorative Sleep
If you don’t get enough restful sleep, you’re more susceptible to inflammation because insufficient sleep can significantly increase levels of the three key inflammatory markers — interleukin-6, CRP and fibrinogen. Plus, cutting your night’s sleep short by even an hour or two reduces the effectiveness of your immune system by about 25%, leading to more illness and disease. Now that’s a double-whammy since inflammation itself also increases your risk for certain diseases.
2. Exercise Regularly and Often
Working out regularly can significantly lower inflammation. It, of course, has the added benefit of reducing obesity, which is another cause of chronic inflammation. Exercising at 60% to 80% of your max heart rate lowers levels of the key inflammation marker C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is produced by the liver and high levels are a predictor of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart failure, stroke and high blood pressure. As little as 20 minutes of moderate exercise, like power walking, lowers inflammation. Aim to exercise at least three days a week.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness practices, including yoga and meditation, minimize the body’s stress-related physiological changes, such as increased heart rate and decreased digestive function. Mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation still the mind and calm the nervous system. In other words, engaging regularly in mindfulness practices reduces stress, which in turn reduces inflammation. And there’s an additional benefit as well: reducing the stress response also lowers cortisol, which is one of the hormones that causes us to gain weight, especially around the middle of our bodies.
4. Balance Your Fats
The battle against inflammation can also be fought by what’s on your plate. Start by boosting your intake of good fats by increasing Omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, avocado and olive oil). These healthy fats fight inflammation by offsetting the pro-inflammatory effects of Omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in vegetable oils and many fast foods. Also, reduce your intake of Omega-6 fatty acids and saturated fats to further fight inflammation. Decrease saturated fats in your diet by sticking to lean cuts of meat.
5. Eat Leafy Green Veggies
As a health coach, I often like to help people add healthy foods to their diet rather than focusing on not eating certain foods. One of the best foods to add is leafy green veggies — kale, collard greens and dark lettuces. These veggies are packed with all kinds of great vitamins and minerals, with one of the most important being magnesium. There’s lots of evidence showing that people with high inflammatory markers often have low magnesium levels. So, eating a magnesium-rich diet can decrease your inflammation.
By integrating these five simple steps, you can proactively reduce inflammation so you can feel well.
Image © iStockPhoto.com
Three Hours to Finding Your Calm in the Chaos
By Jamie Jackson Spannhake
In this bestselling book written for lawyers, former Biglaw litigator Jamie Spannhake helps you clarify your desires and set priorities so you can reclaim your time and enjoy your life. Available in soft-cover and digital format.
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