It can take years for hidden inflammation to harm your health, raising your risk for heart attacks and stroke. Fortunately this damage can be reversed.
Over time, a poor diet (too much sugar, for example), lack of exercise, a smoking habit, and other personal lifestyle choices may lead to low levels of long-term, continuing inflammation. This type of inflammation can damage the blood vessels that feed your heart muscle and brain and allow cholesterol to enter their walls and damage them. When the inflammation continues, the damage worsens and can lead to a heart attack or stroke without warning.
But better health habits can repair your heart’s health and seriously reduce your risk for heart problems. Here are 5 important ways to stop harmful inflammation:
Don’t sleep too much.
Try to get about 7-8 hours a night. More hours of sleep than this go with higher levels of C-reactive protein, and point to inflammation in the body. People who slept the most had higher levels of inflammation in the body, according to a study of more than 2500 people.
If you don’t over do it, exercising helps your heart by lowering blood pressure, helping you reduce or manage your weight, and reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes. A moderate level workout also has a direct effect on inflammation. In recent research, just 20 minutes of moderate exercise a day decreased damaging inflammation. (In general, try to be physically active for 30 minutes a day, 5 or more days of the week.)
The popular Mediterranean diet, which focuses on vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, fish and other lean protein, and olive oil, helps to calm inflammation. And specific foods are surprisingly good at reducing this hidden heart risk. These include berries, nuts, olive oil, leafy green vegetables, and fatty fish like salmon and snapper. (Find more anti-inflammatory foods here.)
Avoid or limit foods that lead to inflammation. These include white bread; fried foods; red and processed meats; sugar-sweetened drinks; and sugary foods like some breakfast foods (cereals, yogurts, bars), cakes, cookies, and ice cream. Look for products that have less than 8 grams of sugar per serving. Lower is better!
Roll up your sleeve.
Getting sick causes inflammation in the body to rise because your immune system kicks in to fight off disease. Avoiding illness isn’t always possible, but vaccinations can make a big difference. Ask your doctor if you are up to date on your vaccines. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states everyone needs a flu shot every year and you need a shot for pneumonia if you are 65 or older and a shot for shingles if you are 60 or older. Research has shown that a flu shot protects against heart attacks and strokes in the year following vaccination.
Take care of your teeth.
Inflammation in the mouth can lead to inflammation in the blood vessels. How does it work? When bacteria builds up on the teeth, it can cause infection in the gums. The immune system attacks the infection and the gums become inflamed. Inflammation in the mouth then gets into the bloodstream where it can cause inflammation in the blood vessels. Be sure to brush and floss your teeth every day and see a dentist promptly if you have red, irritated, or bleeding gums.
It takes a while for inflammation in the body to build and cause damage, so it won’t go away overnight. But good lifestyle changes will help in the long run, giving you the best chance for a healthy future!
For more information
Curious about inflammation in your body? Ask your doctor about blood and urine tests that can tell you about your personal risk for this harmful condition.