Does aging cause inflammation, or vice versa?
Doctors are still trying to figure this one out. They're sure there's a link between the two, but they can't yet separate cause from effect. What is known is that dropping the habits that make inflammation worse can help you age gracefully.
As health researcher Nancy Jenny wrote in a paper for Discovery Medicine, "There are lifestyle factors and potential interventions that can slow specific processes primarily through reduction or prevention of chronic inflammation and therefore forestall aging itself."
The bad news is that you might have everyday habits that cause inflammation. The good news is that doctors have figured some of them out. For instance, you should probably stop:
1. Spending Your Day in a Chair
The sedentary lifestyle is literally killing us. Studies suggest that women who spend at least six hours a day in a chair are 34 percent more likely to die early, and their cancer risk increases by 10 percent. The risk of early death for similarly sedentary men is 17 percent. Either way, the picture is bleak.
So many of our jobs require us to sit at computers for eight hours a day, though. What can we do to mitigate the damage our careers are dealing to our bodies?
Reporting by the Washington Post that included interviews with doctors, researchers, and biomechanists offers a few solutions. Sit on an exercise ball at work, they say. When you're watching TV, get up and walk around every time there's a commercial.
Whatever you do, make sure you get up and move every half hour or so. These are small things, but they add up over a lifetime—which may be considerably longer if you follow these suggestions.
2. Missing out on Vitamin D
You've probably heard that the "sunshine vitamin" helps our bodies build calcium into bone. In fact, vitamin D is crucial for preventing inflammation-related disorders that come with age.
The hazards of low levels of this crucial nutrient include aging-related dementia, cancer, and an increased risk of fatal cardiovascular disease. Ideal vitamin D levels differ from patient to patient, so ask your doctor if you're getting enough through diet and time in the sun.
If you aren't, your doctor may suggest diet changes, getting outside more, or a vitamin D supplement.
3. Failing to Keep up With Your Strength Training
It's hard enough to get to the gym in the first place. Once you're there, it can be tempting to zone out on the bikes or the treadmill. Although cardio is great, there are real risks related to a lack of strength training.
"The aging process is associated with changes in muscle mass and strength with decline of muscle strength after the 30th year," write Karsten Keller and Martin Engelhardt in the journal Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons.
While your muscles are wasting away, your metabolism slows down. This combination of factors can lead to unhealthy weight gain, which carries its own list of horrors. The point is, arm day may be more important than you think. Don't neglect the weights.
4. Not Sleeping Enough
We have a very sad fact to share. Brace yourself. Coffee cannot replace sleep.
We know, we know. We are grieving too. The truth is that doctors are serious when they tell you to get between 7 and 8.5 hours of sleep a night, every night. Less than that could affect your productivity and, worse, encourage your arteries to harden.
An article in the Harvard Business Review written by Harvard Medical School professor Charles Czeisler warns us that people who sleep less than five hours a night for five years in a row are three times more likely to develop hardened arteries.
Meanwhile, sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on your genes themselves and can lead to DNA damage that raises your risk of cancer. We don't know how to get more hours in the week either, but it's clear that skipping sleep is not the way to do it.
5. Hating Your Job
If you want to live a long, happy life, free from the damaging effects of growing inflammation, you need to follow your passion. That's not just a feel-good platitude; it's medical science.
A systematic literature review published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine found that "job satisfaction level is an important factor influencing the health of workers."
That makes perfect sense when you think about it. When you hate your job, you spend every day stressed out and angry. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress makes existing health problems worse. It encourages the formation of bad habits, such as smoking and overeating. It can even increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Although a discouraging 20 to 40 percent of working adults say they hate their jobs, it's important to remember that many of us do have other options. Almost no one is trapped in their work, no matter how restricted they may feel. There's always another job (or career!) out there, and remaining stuck in an unpleasant environment can actually speed up the aging process.