How to reduce inflammation and slow ageing

Inflammation sends us into a panic, but improving your lifestyle and wellbeing can improve it.

As we get older, inflammation in our bodies increases and can lead to chronic illness. But there are 7 simple ways we can stop “inflammageing” in its tracks.

By Sabrina Rogers-Anderson

From questionable supplements to overpriced cosmetic procedures, there’s no shortage of products and services that promise eternal youth.

Spoiler alert: there are no miracle anti-ageing solutions.

But a large body of evidence does show that reducing the chronic inflammation that develops as we get older could slow the ageing process and keep a host of health conditions at bay.

Here’s how to tackle “inflammageing” and live your best second chapter of life.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation gets a bad rap, but it isn’t all negative. That’s because there are two types of inflammation:

  • Acute inflammation plays an important role in helping us recover from illness, infection and injury. It occurs when the immune system releases white blood cells to protect and heal the affected area. It generally only lasts a few hours or days.
  • Chronic inflammation happens when the immune system keeps producing white blood cells even when there isn’t an injury or illness to heal. The white blood cells may end up attacking healthy tissues and organs.

As we age, we’re susceptible to chronic low-grade inflammation throughout our bodies. Because there generally aren’t any obvious symptoms, we may not even realise we have it.

Why is chronic inflammation bad for us?

Research has linked chronic inflammation with several health conditions that appear as we get older and can reduce our quality of life as well as shorten our lifespan. These include:

How to tell if you have chronic inflammation

Keep an eye out for these signs and symptoms:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Stomach issues such as constipation, diarrhoea or bloating
  • Skin rashes

But you may not have any symptoms at all, so staying on top of your regular health checks is your best bet.

7 ways to control inflammation as you age

You don’t have to sit back and let inflammageing take over your health and wellbeing. Here are some simple steps you can take to reduce chronic inflammation. 

Move your body

A huge body of research has shown that regular exercise has important anti-inflammatory effects on the body - and every little bit of activity counts.

The Australian Department of Health recommends that adults aged 18 to 64 get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. They should also do strength training twice a week.

Adults 65 and over should aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.

But when it comes to reducing inflammation, University of California San Diego researchers found that even a single 20-minute brisk walking session produced an anti-inflammatory response. 

So, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the recommendations and not doing any exercise at all, focus on adding small bursts of incidental activity into your day.

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet

The Mediterranean and MIND diets are rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients and compounds, including vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and polyphenols.

Adding these foods to your diet may help decrease chronic inflammation:

  • Leafy greens, including kale, spinach and collard greens
  • Tomatoes
  • Fruits, including blueberries, strawberries, cherries and oranges
  • Fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts, including almonds and walnuts

While evidence on the anti-inflammatory effects of whole grains is conflicting, there’s no doubt they’re a healthier choice than refined grains.

Some experts warn against putting specific foods on an anti-inflammatory pedestal, explaining that a healthy and balanced diet is more important than any so-called superfood.

You should also try to avoid or limit the following inflammatory foods:

  • Refined carbohydrates, including white bread, biscuits and cake
  • Soft drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Red meat and processed meat, including burgers, steak, sausages and lunch meats
  • Fried foods

Read more longevity recipes on Citro.

Cut 10% of your daily calories

Research has found that reducing your daily calorie intake by as little as 10% to 15% can help decrease inflammation. For the average person, that’s the equivalent of a small bar of chocolate.

A recent study also concluded that intermittent fasting can help keep inflammation in check. While there are several different fasting methods, it can be as simple as stretching out the time between meals by not snacking after dinner and waiting an hour or two after waking to have breakfast.

If cutting calories or fasting helps you lose some belly fat, even better. When you have a large number of visceral fat cells - the type that surround your organs - your immune system may mistakenly perceive them as a threat and produce white blood cells to try to destroy them, resulting in chronic inflammation. 

Read more on Citro's longevity guide.

Protect your sleep

Not getting enough sleep and inconsistent sleep patterns have both been shown to lead to inflammation.

Here are a few tips to help you get a good night’s sleep:

  • Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Try to get up and go to sleep at the same time every day.
  • Switch screens off at least an hour before going to bed.
  • Avoid caffeine late in the day and limit alcohol.
  • Don’t eat heavy meals or snacks before bedtime.
  • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature.

Read more about natural therapies for a good sleep, supplements for sleep and how to improve your sleep hygiene.

Address your stress 

There’s substantial evidence that chronic stress is associated with inflammation and illnesses ranging from heart disease to cancer.

While we can’t completely eliminate stressors from our lives, we can change how we respond to them.

A meditation app such as Calm or Headspace can help you learn how to cope with negative thoughts or emotions in just 10 minutes a day. Many people also find yoga calming.

Deep breathing is another way to calm your heart rate and nervous system. There are several methods, but box breathing is easy to do.

Imagine a box in your head with each of these 4 steps being one side of the box: inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds and hold for 4 seconds.  

Keep your mouth healthy

Gum disease can cause chronic inflammation throughout the body when bacteria from the mouth travels through the bloodstream.

Poor oral health has been linked with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, lung conditions and mouth cancer. Read more on how to keep your teeth for life.

To prevent gum disease and its complications, brush your teeth and gums twice a day with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Floss every day and visit your dentist for a check-up and clean every 6 to 12 months.

Anti-ageing drug metformin

Metformin is a widely prescribed type 2 diabetes medication, but recent studies have found it has anti-inflammatory properties and may protect against everything from cognitive decline to cancer.

The upcoming Targeting Ageing with Metformin (TAME) trial will examine whether the promising drug delays the development or progression of a wide range of age-related diseases.

An anti-ageing pill might not be far off. But in the meantime, the power to halt chronic inflammation is in our hands with a few simple lifestyle changes.

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