I’ve always been a firm believer that “you are what you eat.” Food plays such a huge part in our health: for example, nutritious, good quality food, thoughtfully prepared, eaten in the right proportions can help keep you healthy. But in addition to that, our lifestyle habits also have a direct impact on our mental, physical, and spiritual health. It’s important to have a good diet, but that’s only one part of living healthy.
In the article I’ve linked above, the author discusses five lifestyle factors that influence our overall health, placing an emphasis on how they can cause chronic, system-wide inflammation: Sleep, Psychological stress, Environment, Exercise, Diet – also known by the acronym SPEED. This topic is especially interesting to me because I have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and because (not coincidently) I also happen to have a personal need to change the negative factors listed.
Let’s take a look at these factors, and some of their effects:
Sleep. Getting a good, full night of sleep is a very important thing. In my opinion, it’s almost as important as eating a nourishing meal. Sleep deprivation has been known to cause depression and anxiety; it can reduce alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving; it ages your skin; causes weight gain(1); and as the article states, it’s associated with inflammation and inflammation-based diseases.
Psychological stress. Everyone should know by now that too much stress is not a good thing, and has negative effects on your whole body. Chronic stress increases the risks for certain diseases. It also causes your muscles to become tense, and can trigger tension headaches and migraines, panic attacks, and asthma attacks; can increase the heart rate which can lead to hypertension, heart attack or stroke. It can cause you to have irregular eating habits, potentially leading to vomiting, acid reflux, and ulcers – which in turn can have an affect on your digestion – leaving you bloated, with diarrhea, constipation, or both; and it can also mess with both the male and female reproductive systems(2). In other words, it’s not fun at all.
Environment. This is a hot topic for me. It seems like just about every corner of the world is polluted, and it’s not going to get any less polluted any time soon. The bioaccumulation of pollutants – from plumes of factory smoke, oil spills, pesticide application, fracking and poisoning of ground water, to name a few – is detrimental to everyone’s health, including wild flora and fauna. It really makes me sad, and mad, especially since I have young children and I believe that the state of the environment as we know it will be even worse for them. It is quite obvious to me that these pollutants don’t just disappear – they are absorbed into the soil, air, and water that is being used to grow food for people right now. Those toxic chemicals in our food are then absorbed into our bodies. Many of these chemicals are the cause of inflammation of body tissues, our nervous system, reproductive system, endocrine, and immune system.
Exercise. Exercise! It’s so good for you, and you should exercise regularly. What else do I need to say? The benefits are endless, as long as you are careful and avoid injury. Everything from walking and hiking, dancing, playing sports, lifting weights, etc. I am convinced that movement, in its many forms, is critical to a healthy life. On the cellular level, many diseases associated with inflammation can be reduced by engaging in regular exercise.
Diet. It’s very important to eat a variety of healthy foods, but this isn’t always easy when you have chronic inflammation. My doctor has advised against certain foods which are known to trigger flare-ups, but in my case, I haven’t been able to definitively nail down which foods are fine and which ones aren’t. For the most part, I aim for healthy, unprocessed, low salt, low sugar foods, including many of the foods mentioned in the article (fish, fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables, nuts, good quality lean protein, unrefined grains); however, sometimes I have to eat whatever I can scrounge from the cupboard. Because of this, I supplement my diet with a multi-vitamin, vitamin E and probiotics (which, in my case, have proven to be very beneficial).
In conclusion, I believe the take-home message here to stave off inflammation is to eat well and listen to your body, move as much as you can, don’t sweat the small stuff, breathe, and get as much sleep as your lifestyle will allow. And don’t take things for granted.
“We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.” ~Alice May Brock