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Diet changes, better sleep and stress management can all help fight inflammation in your body.

When you have a sore throat or a stubbed toe, inflammation is a good thing. But if it sticks around after you’ve recovered, that’s another story.

“Inflammation is a double-edged sword,” says Grace Guerrier, MD, a Geisinger internal medicine doctor. “Short-term, it’s a crucial part of the healing process, but chronic inflammation can raise your risk of various health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and certain types of cancer.”

Fortunately, some simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference. Here’s how to reduce inflammation while boosting your overall health.

What causes inflammation?

Inflammation is your body’s natural response to illness or injury, and it usually resolves over time as you recover.

“Chronic inflammation happens when there’s no threat, but your immune system is still sending out inflammatory signals,” explains Dr. Guerrier. “This can damage healthy cells as your body tries to fight off an intruder that isn’t there.”

Symptoms of chronic inflammation can be subtle and include:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain or muscle aches
  • Digestive issues like bloating, diarrhea or constipation
  • Allergies
  • Brain fog
  • Frequently getting sick
  • Skin conditions like eczema or acne
  • Weight changes

While inflammation can sometimes be a sign of an underlying condition like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, it can also be caused by lifestyle choices. 

How to reduce inflammation

Simple changes to your habits can help get your immune system back on track and alleviate the pain and sluggishness of chronic inflammation. Here’s what Dr. Guerrier recommends:

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet

Fill your plate with foods that fight inflammation like berries, dark chocolate and fish. And try to limit sugary snacks and artificial trans fats, which can promote inflammation.

Get enough exercise

Regular physical activity can help reduce inflammation by improving circulation and promoting the release of anti-inflammatory hormones. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, such as brisk walking, swimming or cycling.

Maintain a healthy weight

Excess weight and obesity can increase inflammation and your risk of other chronic diseases. If you’re not seeing weight-loss results from diet and exercise alone, your primary care provider can help you come up with a comprehensive plan to meet your goals. 

Drink less alcohol

Besides making inflammation worse, too much alcohol can also exacerbate symptoms like fatigue, brain fog and weight gain. Try cutting back — or cutting alcohol out altogether. If you do drink, stick to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

Stop smoking

Smoking triggers inflammation, especially in your lungs and heart. Quitting tobacco can help regulate your immune system and improve your overall well-being.

Improve your sleep quality

A good night’s rest is essential for your body to recharge and reduce inflammation. Practice healthy bedtime habits like turning off electronics at night, waking up at the same time each day and skipping that afternoon cup of coffee.

Manage stress

Chronic stress negatively affects your mental and  physical health. Try relaxation techniques like meditation or deep breathing exercises. Is your stress starting to feel overwhelming? A mental health professional can help you cope.

When to talk to your doctor

If you have symptoms of chronic inflammation, it’s important to rule out any underlying health conditions that might be causing it.

“Your primary care provider can check for autoimmune diseases and other health conditions that mimic the symptoms of or cause chronic inflammation,” says. Dr. Guerrier. “Once you know the cause, you’ll be better prepared to treat it and improve your health.” 

Next steps:

Learn about internal medicine at Geisinger
See more ways stress affects your body
Ready to up your exercise? Here are other health benefits of walking. 

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