Understanding Inflammation, 2/3 by Jeanne Rosner, MD
Updated: Nov 21, 2022
As discussed in the previous post, chronic inflammation often goes unnoticed until serious disease is diagnosed, which often can be too late. This chronic, often imperceptible, low-level inflammation appears to be the root cause of many serious diseases such as heart disease, cancer, neurodegenerative conditions (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases), depression, asthma, allergies, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.
Today, I will discuss the importance of avoiding obesity, regular exercise and some proven stress-reduction modalities that help to control chronic inflammation.
Maintaining an Ideal Body Weight and Avoiding Obesity
These are extremely important in reducing chronic inflammation. Fat cells serve as more than a storage depot for body energy. Research has shown that fat cells secrete hormones that promote inflammation, which then leads to insulin resistance and the development of obesity-related complications.
Regular Exercise Regular exercise imparts tremendous health benefits, including better vascular health (which leads to a lowering of blood pressure), reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, improved lung function, strengthened bones and muscles, lowered risk of some cancers, reduced risk of Type 2 Diabetes and improvement in metabolism. As an added benefit, when one exercises, endogenous hormones (cortisol and adrenalin) are released and help to create a happy and relaxed mental state, which can ease depression for some people.
Exercise also has anti-inflammatory effects (as measured by inflammatory markers in the blood), and therefore, regular, physical exercise in the long-term can protect against the development of chronic diseases.
How much should you do?
Most studies of physical activity show a strong dose-response rate: the more you do, the more you benefit. However as little as two hours to two and a half hours a week of at least moderate-intensity aerobic activity can provide benefits.
Stress Reduction: Yoga, Meditation, Breathing Exercises, Getting Out in Nature
Yoga When practicing yoga you tend to synchronize your movements with your breath. In doing so, your mind begins to slow down and you feel more peaceful and at ease. There are tremendous health benefits to the practice of yoga, which include relieving anxiety, reducing chronic pain and lessening symptoms of depression. Yoga relieves anxiety through the natural production of GABA–gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter that produces a calming effect upon the body. Yoga can reverse the effects of chronic pain by increasing the gray matter located in the cerebral cortex and subcortical regions of the brain that are involved with pain modulation. In addition, the increase in gray matter can also be an effective remedy for certain types of depression. Yoga Studio is a wonderful app that allows you to do yoga in the comfort of your home, or anywhere you are.
Meditation “There are many good forms of a meditation practice. A good meditation practice is any one that develops awareness or mindfulness of our body and our sense of our mind and heart." –Jack Kornfield Until recently we thought the brain was fully formed by adulthood. However, we now know that the brain is resilient and undergoes neuroplasticity. There is evidence that meditation changes the physical structure of the brain. These changes include increased regions of gray matter, which are important for attention, emotion regulation and mental flexibility. The immune system is directly connected to the brain, so by lowering inflammation one can lower one's risk of depression and anxiety.
Meditators develop new connections in their brains just as mathematicians; musicians and jugglers do. Even people new to meditation, using simple meditation techniques, can immediately enhance concentration and control their attention. In people with anxiety disorders, the general practice of becoming aware of the present moment by paying attention to your breath, sensations in your body, etc., can help change the way the brain responds to negative thoughts, and thus reduce anxiety and stress. Putting it into practice, how much is enough to see the benefits of meditation? Start out small… as little as 10 minutes a day has been demonstrated to show positive changes in the brain and in the meditator’s mental states. Calm.com and Headspace are both wonderful apps that can help with starting a meditation practice.
Breathing Exercises When you are feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and overly emotional, try taking a moment to just breathe. Focus on your breath and time your inhale and exhale. Inhale for a count of four, pause for a count of two then exhale to a count of five. The longer exhale is known to calm anxiety.
Communing with Nature Studies have shown that spending time outside, in nature, can relieve stressful states. Measurements show decreased cortisol levels, a decrease in sympathetic nervous system activity, a decrease in blood pressure and a decrease in heart rate as well as increased parasympathetic nervous system activity, indicating a relaxed state. Additionally, indicators of immune function were shown to increase. This might play an important role as we increasingly look to preventive medicine in the future.
Obesity and the role of adipose tissue in inflammation and metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr February 2006 vol. 83 no. 2 461S-465S. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/83/2/461S.full
The anti-inflammatory effects of exercise: mechanisms and implications for the prevention and treatment of disease, 607-615 (September 2011) | doi:10.1038/nri304111 Nature Reviews Immunology. http://www.nature.com/nri/journal/v11/n9/full/nri3041.html
The Brain Benefits of Meditation. The Yoga Journal, June 1, 2010. http://www.yogajournal.com/article/health/brain-meditation/
Meditations by Jack Kornfield: https://jackkornfield.com/meditations/
Preventive medical effects of nature therapy, Nihon Eiseigaku Zasshi, 2011 Sep; 66(4):651-6.[Article in Japanese], Miyazaki Y, Lee J, Park BJ, Tsunetsugu Y, Matsunaga K. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21996763
In my next post, I will discuss the role of diet in reducing inflammation.
Jeanne Rosner, MD
Jeanne Rosner is a board-certified anesthesiologist who practiced pediatric anesthesia at Stanford Medical Center for nearly 20 years. In 2011 she began teaching nutrition classes in her son’s 5th-grade science class. It was an “aha” moment for her. She realized that learning and teaching about nutrition, health and wellness in her community was her destiny.
Since retiring from anesthesia, Jeanne has been a nutrition educator in the San Francisco Bay Area, at local middle and high schools. She teaches middle school children the importance of eating food closest to the source, making good food choices and eating in a balanced and moderate way.
Dr. Rosner started SOUL (seasonal, organic, unprocessed, local) Food Salon in 2014. SOUL Food Salon’s mission is to educate and empower people to be healthier. She holds small gatherings (salons) at which experts in the health and wellness community share their knowledge on how to lead a healthier life.
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