Business of Well-being

Chronic Inflammation Heats Up Disease Risk

If you've ever accidentally touched a hot stove, you know all about inflammation. Your skin turns bright red, eventually blisters and the resulting pain lasts for what seems like eternity. Although it's no walk in the park, this acute inflammatory response is a positive sign that your immune system is healthy and doing its job.

But what happens when your immune system fails to shut off? Like a forgotten pot of water left to boil over on a hot stove, this persistent internal inflammation-called chronic systemic inflammation-is a totally different scenario. It's much more worrisome, especially because you can't see or feel it! It's literally doing silent damage.

Unlike the repair that occurs during acute inflammation, chronic inflammation does not allow for this healing and can lead to serious diseases like heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. [1] [2] Does this mean you are doomed to a life of constant, disease-causing, chronic inflammation? Of course not!

Although it's safe to assume we all experience some level of inflammation, you will be relieved and empowered to know that there are measures you can take today to cool it down. To get started on reducing chronic inflammation and building the healthy body you were meant to live in, first you'll want to familiarize yourself with the five powerful lifestyle habits that decrease inflammation and compare them against your current habits. These habits include:

1. Smoking Cessation:

Cigarette smoke induces chronic inflammation in the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control, tobacco smoke contains a deadly mix of more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds are toxic, and about seventy of them cause cancer. [3]

2. Getting Adequate Sleep:

Sleep may seem like a luxury to you and you may be currently struggling just to get five hours a night. However, maintaining adequate sleep duration and quality through good sleep habits and treatment of sleep disorders may reduce chronic inflammation in the body. [1] The goal is to aim for seven to nine hours each night.

3. Regular Exercise:

According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. [4] Moderate-intensity aerobic activity means you're working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. Some examples are:

  • Walking fast
  • Doing water aerobics
  • Riding a bike on level ground or with few hills
  • Playing doubles tennis
  • Pushing a lawn mower

Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity means you're breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. If you're working at this level, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath. For example:

  • Jogging or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Riding a bike fast or on hills
  • Playing singles tennis
  • Playing basketball

4. Eating a healthy Mediterranean-style diet:

Don't be mistaken-the Mediterranean Diet is not a diet at all! It is a balanced style of eating which reflects the traditional eating patterns of those countries surrounding the Mediterranean.

A great body of scientific research supports the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, including: lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, improved weight control, prevention of depression, and lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. [5]A Mediterranean-style eating plan promotes: [6]

  • Whole, unprocessed foods with simple preparation (foods are rarely fried)
  • Eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans every day
  • Small amounts of healthy fat with each meal, such as: extra virgin olive oil, olives, nuts or seeds
  • Eating fish two to three times each week
  • Low-fat yogurt and cheese in moderation
  • Herbs and spices to flavor foods versus salt, sauces and gravies
  • Water as the predominant beverage of choice
  • At least one vegetarian meal per week
  • Very small amounts of lean protein and very little red meat
  • Enjoying your favorite foods in moderation

Making healthy choices certainly doesn't involve living the rest of your life without chocolate, pizza or ice cream! Aiming for perfection in your eating habits never works and I can almost guarantee it will paralyze your progress. Yes, food is fuel for the body, but let's not forget that it also represents enjoyment!

It's so much easier to stay on track when you don't feel deprived-that's why making room for your all time favorite foods is so important. Aim for a 90-10 balance: 90 percent good-for-you foods and 10 percent fun! Interestingly enough, sticking to the 90-10 rule creates a natural shift in your taste buds and you will find that you slowly begin to prefer- even crave-the healthier foods.

5. Practicing Stress-reduction Techniques:

The effects of psychological stress on the body's ability to regulate inflammation can promote the development and progression of disease. [7] Stress-reduction techniques that can help relax the body and calm the mind include: deep breathing exercises, meditation, physical activity and laughter.

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your health. But without action, knowledge is useless. Once you've compared each of the above with your current habit patterns, choose one small action step you will take today to strengthen one of your weak habits. Repeat that action step daily until it feels natural to you and then move on to the next weak habit. A small step could be any of the following:

  • Getting seven hours of sleep each night instead of six
  • Eating a cup of raw veggies with hummus for an afternoon snack instead of potato chips
  • Dedicating fifteen minutes of your lunch break to climbing the stairs or going outside for a walk
  • Replacing one soda or other sweetened beverage with water
  • Spending ten minutes in the morning performing deep breathing exercises
  • Eating a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast instead of a cinnamon roll

By harnessing the gift of choice, you can literally slash your risks of some of the most deadly and inflammatory diseases. Be patient with yourself. Celebrate all victories, no matter how small they may seem. Because with each new healthy habit, you are one step closer to achieving the healthy body you were meant to live in.

About the Author

Melanie Jatsek is an author, registered dietitian and creator of the Healthy YOU program-a healthy living system that helps employees connect their daily habits to what is going on beneath their skin.

Melanie's passion is to help people transform their relationship with food and create the body they were meant to live in. Contact information: 440-317-0387;


[1] What is inflammation? What causes inflammation? Medical News Today. May, 2014.

[2] Chronic inflammation: Reduce it to protect your health. US News Health. November, 2009.

[3] Smoking & Tobacco Use Factsheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June, 2014.

[4] Physical Activity Guidelines. October, 2008.

[5] Med Diet & Health. Oldways.

[6] Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Oldways. November, 2008.

[7] Press Release: How Stress Influences Disease: Carnegie Mellon Study Reveals Inflammation as the Culprit. Carnegie Mellon News. April, 2012.

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