Want to reduce inflammation so you can feel better and lower your risk for serious health problems? There's no better time than first thing in the morning to get started.
"Our body's immune system, designed to protect us, can overreact if stimulated by unhealthy lifestyle and create a state of chronic inflammation, which contributes to pain, degeneration of body, aging, fatigue and myriad other symptoms," says Jill Carnahan, MD, a Louisville, Colorado-based board-certified physician and functional medicine specialist, and author of Unexpected.
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Chronic inflammation is often caused by unhealthy lifestyle factors, according to the National Library of Medicine. But there's good news: Simply changing your habits can bring those inflammation levels down and help you feel your best.
Best of all, you can make impactful changes as soon as you wake up each day. Here are eight research-backed strategies to try.
1. Get Some Light ASAP
Sleep deprivation increases inflammatory markers in the body, according to Harvard Health Publishing. But you can up the odds for a better night's sleep by opening the blinds first thing, or better yet, taking a stroll outside.
Exposure to natural light shortly after waking up regulates the sleep hormone melatonin, helping you feel more alert in the a.m. and making it easier to nod off at bedtime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
2. Start Your Day Phone-Free
That tense, keyed-up feeling you get when you start scrolling first thing? It's not just bad for your mental health. "Stress decreases healthy immune function and increases the risk of excessive inflammation," Dr. Carnahan says.
Trading phone time for a more relaxing activity (like reading, journaling or going for a walk) can help you start your day on a more positive note.
When participants in one October 2022 npj Mental Health Research study cut their recreational screen time to less than three hours per week, they showed reduced markers of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva and reported a greater sense of wellbeing.
3. Have a Cup of Coffee (With Some Milk, if You'd Like)
Coffee's benefits go beyond just perking you up: Moderate caffeinated coffee consumption is tied to a lower risk of dying from any cause, in part thanks to the brew's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, according to April 2021 Nutrients research.
Consider adding a splash of milk for an extra boost: The proteins from dairy seem to enhance coffee's inflammation-fighting effects, according to one January 2023 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry study. But try to limit or avoid any added sweeteners — refined sugar increases inflammation, Dr. Carnahan notes.
4. Sip a Green Smoothie for Breakfast
Dark-colored fruits and vegetables are packed with anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, according to the National Library of Medicine. A produce-packed smoothie makes it easy to get your fill at breakfast and will help you boost your total produce intake for the day.
Dr. Carnahan recommends adding leafy greens, cucumber, celery or beets, along with anti-inflammatory spices like ginger or turmeric. Don't forget a scoop of nut butter or some plain Greek yogurt for protein — it'll help you stay fuller longer.
5. Get Outside for a Walk
Regular physical activity is a known inflammation-fighter, and it only takes a 20-minute bout of moderate exercise to reap the benefits, according to a March 2017 Brain, Behavior, and Immunity study. Walking is a great place to start, says Dr. Carnahan.
You'll get bonus points if you can take your workout outdoors. Time spent in nature can decrease stress and boost your immune function, the USDA notes. Plus, the sunshine will boost your levels of vitamin D, "which is a natural anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating hormone," Dr. Carnahan says.
6. Take a Mid-Morning Tea Break
Even when work gets hectic, it's worth it to take a dedicated pause. Ten-minute microbreaks have been shown to combat fatigue on the job, which may help keep feelings of stress in check, suggests an August 2022 PLOS One review.
While you're off-duty, treat yourself to a cup of green tea. The sipper is packed with potent anti-inflammatory agents like EGCG, which are thought to offer protection against inflammatory diseases, per a September 2016 review in Anti-Inflammatory & Anti-Allergy Agents in Medicinal Chemistry.
7. Swap the Sugary Snack for Nuts
Sure, those break-room donuts or pastries can be pretty tempting when your stomach starts grumbling around 11 a.m. But they're not a good choice for fighting inflammation.
"Consumption of sugar decreases immunity and raises inflammatory markers, contributing to pain, higher inflammation and even a higher risk of diabetes," Dr. Carnahan says.
For a filling snack with a side of health benefits, try a handful of nuts. Options like almonds and walnuts, in particular, have been shown to exert an anti-inflammatory effect, per a February 2023 Nutrients review. Plus, they're packed with protein, healthy fats and fiber to help you stay satisfied.
8. Make Plans to See a Friend
Call or text a pal about getting together for coffee, meeting up for a hike or checking out that new bookstore together.
Strong social ties and spending time with those you care about can ease feelings of loneliness and reduce stress, which play an important role in reducing inflammation, Dr. Carnahan says.
- National Library of Medicine: "Chronic Inflammation"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "How sleep deprivation can cause inflammation"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Effects of Light on Circadian Rhythms"
- npj Mental Health Research: "Effects of limiting digital screen use on well-being, mood, and biomarkers of stress in adults"
- Nutrients: "Coffee Consumption and All-Cause, Cardiovascular, and Cancer Mortality in an Adult Mediterranean Population"
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Phenolic Acid–Amino Acid Adducts Exert Distinct Immunomodulatory Effects in Macrophages Compared to Parent Phenolic Acids"
- Brain, Behavior, and Immunity: "Inflammation and exercise: Inhibition of monocytic intracellular TNF production by acute exercise via β2-adrenergic activation"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Improving Urban Health through Green Space"
- PLOS One: ""Give me a break!" A systematic review and meta-analysis on the efficacy of micro-breaks for increasing well-being and performance"
- Anti-Inflammatory & Anti-Allergy Agents in Medicinal Chemistry: "Anti-inflammatory Action of Green Tea"
- Nutrients: "Effect of Nuts on Markers of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress: A Narrative Review"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.