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The Worst Habits for Inflammation, Says Science

Pay attention to these lifestyle choices.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Aside from the coronavirus, chronic inflammation may be Public Health Enemy No. 1. Normally, inflammation is a protective response that helps the body heal from an injury or infection. But chronic inflammation puts the body in a constant red-alert state. Over time, that can cause serious and even fatal damage. "Chronic inflammatory diseases have been recognized as the most significant cause of death in the world today," including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke and chronic kidney disease, say authors of a paper published in the journal Nature Medicine. These are the worst habits that create inflammation. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.


Being Overweight

Overweight woman in tight clothes at home is trying to fit into tight jeans.

Being overweight or obese is a major trigger of inflammation, and the most effective method of reducing inflammation is weight loss, experts say. According to a 2018 review of 76 studies, losing weight can reduce the amount of inflammation in your body, and reducing the number of calories you consume daily has an anti-inflammatory effect, no matter what diet you follow. 


Being Sedentary

woman in casual clothing using laptop and smiling while working indoors

A sedentary lifestyle is linked with inflammation, and the more sedentary you are, the more your inflammatory markers rise, one study found. The good news: Exercise is a literal quick fix. Another study conducted at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that just one 20-minute session of moderate exercise causes the body to produce an anti-inflammatory response. Experts including the American Heart Association recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, each week. 

RELATED: The #1 Cause of Obesity


Being Stressed Out

depressed Indian woman holding head in hands, sitting alone on couch at home

Chronic stress seems to cause an inflammatory response in the body, which can damage the heart and immune system. Recent studies have found that excessive stress can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease and cancer (and a poor prognosis), potentially shortening your life by years

RELATED: 5 Health Habits Worse Than Soda


Eating Too Many Processed Foods

eating junk food and watching tv

Eating processed foods—particularly simple carbohydrates and added sugars—increases oxidative stress in the body that activates inflammatory genes, says a 2019 paper published in the journal Nature Medicine. These ultra-processed foods, high in sugar, salt and preservatives, can also alter the gut microbiota, increasing the risk of "leaky gut," in which toxins spread from the stomach throughout the body, a quick recipe for inflammation.

RELATED: 8 Ways You're Ruining Your Body, According to Science


Getting Poor Sleep

Girl in a dark room on the bed with the phone

Poor sleep quality is a risk factor for systemic chronic inflammation (SCI), says the Nature Medicine researchers. One potential underminer: The device you're looking at right now. "Exposure to blue light, especially after sundown, increases arousal and alertness at night and thus causes circadian rhythm disruption, which in turn promotes inflammation, and is a risk for multiple inflammation-related diseases," the authors wrote. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael