Stay healthy longer with these anti-inflammaging strategies.
It’s never too late to boost your health and wellness with anti-inflammaging strategies and tips! Getting better sleep, having an active lifestyle, and following a more nutritious diet can benefit everyone, regardless of how old you are. Recent studies show that healthy lifestyles can slow down or even reverse the process of inflammaging.
You don’t need to start sleeping like a baby, eating like an Olympic athlete, or training for a marathon to halt inflammaging and sarcopenia. (Unless you want to!) Making small steps starting today will help get you on the path to a healthy and physically strong future—no matter your age.
Here are my top recommendations.
Getting better sleep
Getting an adequate amount of quality sleep is very beneficial for both physical and mental health. A healthy amount of sleep is needed so your brain can process and remember things. Inadequate sleep is linked to depression, migraines, high blood pressure, increased susceptibility to infections, and even blood sugar issues.
Adults of all ages need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. (Yes, all ages!) If you’re struggling to get enough quality sleep, here are a few tips to try:
- Follow a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time.
- If you enjoy caffeine (like coffee or black/green tea), limit it later in the day as its stimulant effects can last for several hours. Ideally, caffeine can be cut out about 6 hours before you plan to go to sleep, so if you want to go to sleep at 10:00 p.m., try to drink your last cup by 4:00 p.m. and then switch to caffeine-free drinks.
- Regular exercise during the day can help you sleep better at night. (Try to finish exercising at least 3 hours before you go to bed.)
- If you wake up in the middle of the night with heartburn or have to use the bathroom, limit your food and liquid intake before bed.
- Limit your screen time before bed as the light can stimulate your brain.
- Create a relaxing evening routine to help you wind down for the night.
Exercise is anti-inflammatory
Research shows that exercise has significant anti-inflammatory effects. A recent review of 23 studies published in the journal Experimental Gerontology concluded that exercise was linked to lower levels of inflammation. Another study in the Journal of Applied Physiology looked at how well exercise can delay the onset of inflammaging. The researchers found that older men who maintained an aerobic exercise regimen had lower levels of inflammation and better chances of delaying, or even preventing, inflammaging altogether.
Beyond being simply anti-inflammatory, physical activity has many additional health benefits. For example, it helps to reduce risk of high blood pressure (linked to heart disease and stroke), diabetes, and depression. Exercise also helps to reduce falls and maintain independence, and studies suggest it may help benefit the brain by delaying or slowing the onset of cognitive decline and dementia as we age.
Exercise strategies you can start today
There are four kinds of exercise recommended for adults to improve physical function and prevent (and even treat) frailty:
- Resistance (strength) training
- Aerobic (endurance) activity
If you’re new to exercise (or getting back into the habit), start from where you are now (making sure you’re cleared by your doctor) and go for small improvements over time.
There are a few things to keep in mind when starting or increasing your physical activity. First, listen to your body. Be sure to slow down or stop if you experience pain, dizziness, or other concerns. Also, be sure to drink fluids before you start feeling thirsty, and follow instructions for proper form when learning new moves or using equipment.
1 – Resistance (strength) training
Resistance, or strength, training can improve your muscle strength, walking speed, and physical performance.[9,19] Resistance exercises are particularly effective to slow down the process of sarcopenia by keeping your muscles strong.
“Though all types of physical activity offer benefits, resistance training is presently the most effective intervention to elicit improvements in muscle mass, strength, and function in older adults.” ~ Strasser et al. 2021
Resistance exercises are those where you are pushing or pulling, often against gravity. These are commonly shown as lifting weights or stretching a resistance band, but can also be done without any equipment—for example, doing push ups, sit ups, lunges, or squats that use nothing but your own body weight to resist gravity.
2 – Aerobic (endurance) activity
Aerobic or endurance activities are ones that increase your heart rate and improve the health of your heart and lungs. For that reason they’re also known as “cardio” exercise. Brisk walking, yard work, dancing, swimming, and biking all count as cardio. (It’s not just running!)
One way to get more aerobic activity into your day is to start taking daily walks. Even just 10, 20, or 30 minutes can make a difference. If you don’t go for regular walks and there is no physical reason why you cannot, then go ahead and start enjoying them. If you already walk, you can increase them by 10 or more minutes, or try going farther or finishing your regular route at a faster pace. If you’re up to it, try increasing the pace even more by jogging or running. You can also use these daily walks, jogs, or runs as opportunities to get some fresh air. If you want some alone time to clear your head (and feel safe), walk alone, otherwise invite someone to join you and enjoy their company (while deepening your relationship).
There are so many options when it comes to aerobic exercise, that there’s bound to be one that’s just right for you. For example, you could join a fitness centre or group program in your community. There may be opportunities right in your neighbourhood to join a class or sports team. Or maybe you can enjoy recreational swim time at your local pool.
3 – Balance exercise
Improving your balance helps prevent falls. As you now know, falls can become more serious with inflammaging because they can lead to hospitalization, institutionalization, and loss of independence.
Examples of balance exercises include balancing on one foot or Tai Chi. If you need support, be sure to hold on to a steady chair, countertop, table, or another sturdy piece of furniture.
4 – Flexibility exercise
Stretching can help maintain or improve flexibility so doing everyday things like reaching the top shelf is easier. Stretching can even improve performance in other physical activities like your golf swing.
You can add some stretches after your resistance or aerobic workouts, but be sure to stretch muscles after they’ve been warmed up a bit, as experts no longer recommend stretching “cold” muscles.[20,21]
Examples include some yoga moves or stretches.
Nutrition strategies you can start today
Enjoying more nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory foods is another key strategy when it comes to slowing the process of inflammaging. Here are my six top tips.
1 – Eat enough protein
Protein is one of the main macronutrients everyone needs to get enough of every day. Protein does more than just keep your skin, hair, and nails healthy. Sufficient protein is necessary for healthy muscles and bones, and the proper functioning of your immune and digestive systems. Protein is also necessary for effective wound healing, blood clotting, and maintaining the correct balance of fluids in the body.
Regardless of your age, the official daily protein recommendations for (Canadian and American) adults are 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram you weigh. For a 150-lb (68-kg) adult, that comes to 54 grams of protein per day, and for a 200-lb (90 kg) adult, that’s 72 grams of protein per day.
Both the revised Canada Food Guide and the U.S.-based Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate recommend that one-quarter of your plate be protein-based foods.[24,25] Good sources include eggs; lean meats and poultry; nuts and seeds; fish and shellfish; lower-fat dairy; beans, peas, and lentils; and fortified soy beverages.
2 – Enjoy your fruits and vegetables
People who eat lots of fruits and vegetables tend to have lower levels of inflammation because these foods contain fibre, vitamins, minerals, and many health-promoting phytochemicals.
One anti-inflammaging vitamin found in fruits and vegetables is folate (vitamin B9). When levels of folate get too low, your risk for heart disease, stroke, depression, and impaired memory increases. Some of the best sources of folate are spinach, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts.
An easy way to get a bit more fruits and veggies is to add some to your current meals. Berries and leafy greens (e.g., spinach, kale, etc.) have been studied for their anti-inflammatory properties. You can try adding berries to your yogurt, cereal, or smoothie, or add some spinach to your sandwich. You can also try adding a side of broccoli (or any vegetable) to your dinners to help you eat more of these anti-inflammatory plants.
PRO TIP: You don’t have to splurge for fresh produce every time—check out the frozen food section in your grocery store and see what they have.
3 – Snacks can fight inflammation, too
Of course, you can enjoy an apple, banana, or cucumber as a snack, but you can also enjoy non-fruit or vegetable anti-inflammatory snacks, like a small handful of nuts (preferably unsalted and plain). Nuts provide you with fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. My favourite type of nuts are cashews and I love to enjoy them plain.
4 – Switch to healthier fats
Olive oil is a healthier fat that’s associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as a lower risk of heart disease.[11,14] Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat (MUFA), especially oleic acid, and also contains vitamin E and polyphenols that may contribute to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Try substituting olive oil for saturated and animal fats (like margarine, butter, mayonnaise, and dairy fat).
Other sources of healthier fats like omega-3s are flax, chia, walnuts, and seafood. In fact, eating fish may be one of the strongest dietary factors that influence higher cognitive function and may slow cognitive decline. Fish like salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, or sardines contain healthy omega-3 fats that are anti-inflammatory.
5 – Have your grains whole
Whole grains are those that haven’t had some of the more nutritious parts removed (like the bran and germ). They’re often a browner colour and chewier than processed grains, think of whole-wheat bread or brown rice. What makes whole grains healthier is that they contain more fibre and many of the vitamins that are naturally found in minimally-processed grains. One of the vitamins commonly found in whole grains is the anti-inflammatory vitamin E.
Some whole grains to try include whole wheat, brown or wild rice, or quinoa.
6 – Limit these pro-inflammatory foods
There are several foods associated with higher levels of inflammation in the body. These include red and processed meats, refined carbohydrates (i.e., processed grains such as white flour), and sugar-sweetened beverages.[10,14] Regularly consuming these increases inflammation and inflammation-related diseases such as heart disease. Try to save these for an occasional treat.
Summary of anti-inflammaging strategies
Inflammaging (inflammation + aging) is linked with sarcopenia, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia, but it’s a risk you can mitigate.
By taking some simple actions every day, you can combat the inflammaging process and lead a healthier, more energetic life as you get older. You can maintain your independence and physical abilities, and prevent chronic diseases.
It’s not always easy, but by starting to make small changes to improve your sleep, becoming a bit more physically active, and eating more nutritious foods every day, you can make an impact on inflammaging and sarcopenia before it can make an impact on you.
1 – Franceschi, C., Capri, M., Monti, D., Giunta, S., Olivieri, F., Sevini, F., Panourgia, M. P., Invidia, L., Celani, L., Scurti, M., Cevenini, E., Castellani, G. C., & Salvioli, S. (2007). Inflammaging and anti-inflammaging: a systemic perspective on aging and longevity emerged from studies in humans. Mechanisms of ageing and development, 128(1), 92–105.
2 – Huynh, Hahn. (2018, August). What is the relationship between aging, nutrition, and inflammaging? University of British Columbia Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Magazine.
3 – Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, April 1). Understanding acute and chronic inflammation.
4 – Cannon, R. and Cooper, O. (2020, September 17). Inflammaging: The Side Effect of Age You Haven’t Heard of.
5 – Li, J., Lee, D. H., Hu, J., Tabung, F. K., Li, Y., Bhupathiraju, S. N., Rimm, E. B., Rexrode, K. M., Manson, J. E., Willett, W. C., Giovannucci, E. L., & Hu, F. B. (2020). Dietary Inflammatory Potential and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease Among Men and Women in the U.S. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 76(19), 2181–2193.
6 – Santilli, V., Bernetti, A., Mangone, M., & Paoloni, M. (2014). Clinical definition of sarcopenia. Clinical cases in mineral and bone metabolism : the official journal of the Italian Society of Osteoporosis, Mineral Metabolism, and Skeletal Diseases, 11(3), 177–180.
7 – Strasser, B., Wolters, M., Weyh, C., Krüger, K., & Ticinesi, A. (2021). The Effects of Lifestyle and Diet on Gut Microbiota Composition, Inflammation and Muscle Performance in Our Aging Society. Nutrients, 13(6), 2045.
8 – Lavin, K. M., Perkins, R. K., Jemiolo, B., Raue, U., Trappe, S. W., & Trappe, T. A. (2020). Effects of aging and lifelong aerobic exercise on basal and exercise-induced inflammation. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 128(1), 87–99.
9 – Haider, S., Grabovac, I., & Dorner, T. E. (2019). Effects of physical activity interventions in frail and prefrail community-dwelling people on frailty status, muscle strength, physical performance and muscle mass-a narrative review. Wiener klinische Wochenschrift, 131(11-12), 244–254.
10 – Tabung, F. K., Smith-Warner, S. A., Chavarro, J. E., Fung, T. T., Hu, F. B., Willett, W. C., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2017). An Empirical Dietary Inflammatory Pattern Score Enhances Prediction of Circulating Inflammatory Biomarkers in Adults. The Journal of nutrition, 147(8), 1567–1577.
11 – National Institute on Aging. (2019, November 27). What do we know about diet and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease?
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13 – National Institute on Aging. (2019, September 12). Poor sleep in middle age linked to late-life Alzheimer’s-related brain changes.
14 – Bilodeau, K. (2021, May 11). 5 inflammation-fighting food swaps.
15 – Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). The Science of Sleep: Understanding What Happens When You Sleep.
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18 – National Institute on Aging. (2018, September 24). Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease: What Do We Know?
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20 – National Institute on Aging. (2021, January 29). Four Types of Exercise Can Improve Your Health and Physical Ability.
21 – Harvard Health Publishing. (2015, April 16). Benefits of flexibility exercises.
22 – Brazier, Y. (2020, December 10). How much protein does a person need? Medical News Today.
23 – Health Canada. (2006, June 29). Reference Values for Macronutrients. Dietary Reference Intakes.
24 – Health Canada. (2020, October 14). Eat Protein Foods. Canada’s Food Guide.
25 – Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Healthy Eating Plate. The Nutrition Source.
26 – Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, March 29). Folate.
27 – National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.(2021, March 26). Omega-3 Fatty Acids.