Over the past three years, I have witnessed my body changing and responding in amazing ways to the consistent exercise and the much healthier diet that I have adopted. I have been able to transform my outward appearance, which was of course the original goal when I started out on this journey, but what I have come to realize is the changes that have occured from the inside out are the ones that have had the greatest impact on my life.
Putting the physical changes aside for the moment, one of the most striking ways my body has responded to this new lifestyle is through the noticeable reduction of inflammation that used to plague me on an all too regular basis. About ten years ago, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (UC), an inflammatory bowel disease, that would leave me just about bedridden for weeks at a time. I struggled for a while to get it under control, trying several different medications, and combinations of medications until I finally found one that would successfully send it back into remission.
The medication, however, didn’t stop the flare-ups, which would happen several times a year, it just treated them when they did occur. I won’t go into the details of what those flare-ups consisted of, but needless to say, they were very unpleasant and would leave me feeling drained, uncomfortable, and sometimes even in pain until I was able to get my hands on the very expensive pills I needed to fight back the inflammation causing all the issues.
The inflammation associated with my UC and other types of inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s Disease is what is considered Chronic Inflammation. The other main type of inflammation is Acute Inflammation. Acute Inflammation is the type you might be more familiar with so let’s start there. Acute Inflammation is actually the way our body fights infection, foreign bodies, and also how it begins to heal itself immediately after an injury. This is the inflammation I was referring to when I mentioned the word “necessary” above.
Think about what happens when you say, get a splinter? Almost instantly, the area around the splinter turns red, gets warm and the skin around it might even start to swell up. That is your body’s immediate and very normal reaction to such trauma and is a sign that healing has already started to take place. Acute inflammation happens very rapidly and usually only lasts for a max of a couple of days. Chronic inflammation, again like the type that causes my UC, tends to come on more slowly and can last for months and even years.
The cause of chronic inflammation, while not always known, is often a direct result of your immune system mistakenly attacking normal tissue. Other causes are also thought to be obesity, smoking, intaking too much alcohol, long-term exposure to certain toxins and/or irritants, and even chronic stress. No matter what the cause, think of chronic inflammation as a response from your immune system that doesn’t turn off when it should. It is inflammation that hangs around long after an initial injury, infection, or exposure to a toxin is over.
Chronic inflammation is particularly scary because it can actually alter your DNA and can play a role in the development of pretty serious and sometimes deadly conditions such as:
- Heart Disease
- Lung Issues like Asthma and COPD
Pretty serious right?! So now that we know how damaging chronic inflammation can be, what are some ways we can fight it? Well, the reason that I brought up my UC at the beginning of this article is that for the past two years I haven’t had one single flare-up! Time for an obvious disclaimer here…I am not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV, but I do know my body. And I while I can’t say with 100% certainty that starting to and staying consistent with exercise has been the magic solution, I do believe it has helped immensely.
Exercise for me is not only really great for my physical health but works wonders as a stress reliever as well. And you guessed it…keeping stress to a minimum is another crucial way to keep inflammation out of our bodies. Meditate, take a long, hot bath, dedicate 30 minutes to getting outside and taking in some fresh air, roll on the floor with your dog, do whatever makes you feel happy, and helps you to unwind. Stress is a killer in so many ways, so limiting it through whatever means works for you should always be a top priority.
The third and probably most impactful way I have been able to get my inflammation under control is by cleaning up my diet. I have cut out red meat, greatly limited how much processed food I eat and have made a huge effort to include more whole fruits and vegetables into my diet. I have also added a daily dose of turmeric, cinnamon, and apple cider vinegar to my regimen all of which have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Food, you guys, can either be your best friend or worst enemy when it comes to inflammation, so choose wisely! I created this handy-dandy little chart below for more information on what foods can help and hurt in the fight against chronic inflammation:
Keeping my chronic inflammation at bay is probably going to be a lifelong battle for me. For whatever reason, I am prone to it, suffering as I mentioned not only with UC but also with tendonitis, allergies, and even stomach ulcers a few times in my early twenties all of which have roots in an inflammatory process going on in overdrive in my body. The good news, in setting out to lose a few pounds, I ended up creating a lifestyle for myself that fights the good fight for me. This is just yet another example of how adopting healthier habits can have such unexpectedly amazing benefits. Once again you all, the moral of this story is to treat your body with just a little bit extra TLC and sit back and watch how it repays you in spades!!
Be kind, be well and eat your veggies!!