Many people suffer from inflammation and are looking for ways to feel better. In estimates from the Rand Foundation in 2014, nearly 60% of Americans had at least one chronic inflammatory condition, 42% had more than one and 12% of adults had 5 or more chronic conditions. The good news is some foods act as natural anti-inflammatories and are easy ways to give your body the tools it needs to fight inflammation. This article will cover the best anti-inflammatory foods to add to your diet, as well as foods that cause inflammation and should be avoided.
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What Is Inflammation?
At its simplest definition, inflammation is the body’s biological response to something it perceives to be an “irritant” or a threat. This could be triggered by something as small as a paper cut, to something more nefarious like a pathogen. The inflammatory response is the body’s way of removing or repairing the harmful stimuli in order to protect itself.
There are two main types of inflammation:
- Acute Inflammation: This type of inflammation is usually in response to a specific event, like spraining an ankle or getting the flu. Symptoms are short-lived but can be severe and usually include pain, redness, immobility, swelling and heat.
- Chronic Inflammation: This refers to inflammation that can last for several months to years. Think of it like a steady drip of low-level inflammation. Sometimes this occurs even when there are no apparent “invaders” to fight off, making it especially frustrating for sufferers and doctors alike to correctly diagnose.
During the inflammatory response, different immune system cells are called to action and release various substances, known as inflammatory mediators. These include the hormones bradykinin and histamine. They tell small blood vessels in the damaged tissue to dilate, allowing more blood to reach the injured tissue. This not only helps isolate the damaged tissue from other tissue but brings with it fresh oxygen and nutrients from your blood. It also helps make it easier for immune system cells to pass out of the small blood vessels, so more can enter the affected tissue.
Interestingly, the hormones released during the inflammatory response also irritate your nerves which send pain signals to the brain, telling you to protect that part of the body.
As the body heals, the acute inflammation gradually subsides until you’re back to healthy. That is, unless you have chronic inflammation, in which case the body gets confused and never stops trying to fight off the perceived threat—even when there isn’t one. This is in part due to an overactive immune system. Your body may mistake a healthy cell as an invader and start the attack, thus triggering the inflammatory response.
Chronic, low-grade inflammation can be hard to detect, but doctors can test for C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker for inflammation in the blood. CRP levels can indicate an infection, or a chronic inflammatory disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, according to the Mayo Clinic.
While genetics may play a role in chronic inflammation, diet and lifestyle also have a huge impact. Whether you’re dealing with inflammation currently, or looking to stay on top of your health, it’s important to know what things can help you in the fight against inflammation.
10 Best Anti-inflammatory Foods
If you’re looking for natural anti-inflammatories, a good place to start is by looking at your diet. Research shows that diets rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and fatty fish can fight inflammation, as well as help you lose weight, which is also a contributor to chronic inflammation. Here are the best scientifically-backed anti-inflammatory foods to add to your diet:
Blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are chock full of antioxidants known as anthocyanins. These are what give berries their deep blue, purple and red color. Antioxidants help to fight free radicals, which are essentially unstable molecules that can be detrimental to your health when their numbers get too high.
Wondering how much you have to eat to reap anti-inflammatory rewards? Doctors recommend aiming for one cup per day. For most people, buying fresh berries every week can get expensive. Try swapping fresh for frozen to save money.
2. (Sustainable) Fatty Fish
Health writers have for years been talking about the health benefits of fatty fish, with salmon being heralded as the king of healthy fish. While salmon is indeed full of good fatty acids, there is concern about overfishing and hatcheries impacting the sustainability of wild salmon populations.
The good news is that there are plenty of other options for fatty fish! Try herring, sardines and anchovies, which are packed with the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. Studies show that these dietary fats play a role in anti-inflammatory processes and the health of cell membranes. They can even be a key player in pain management, as one study reported that patients had equivalent pain reduction with fish oil compared to Ibuprofen.
Because our bodies don’t easily produce these fatty acids on their own, and most people don’t eat enough fish in their daily diet, fish oil is a good alternative. (And if you really want a nice piece of salmon, check out Seafood Watch before buying!)
How much should you eat? 2-3 servings per week according to the FDA, or 250-500mg per day of fish oil.
3. Green Leafy Vegetables
Green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach and collards are especially great at fighting inflammation due to their high antioxidant count. In particular, kale is especially high in the antioxidants quercetin and kaempferol, which studies have shown have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-viral activities.,
How much should you eat? 2-3 servings (about one cup) per week. Try blending them into smoothies (freeze them first and you won’t taste them as much!), or sauces. Try rotating through a variety of greens each week so that you reap the full benefits of each of them.
Juicy, ripe tomatoes are another good source of antioxidants, notably lycopene, which has impressive anti-inflammatory properties. Lycopene is a type of carotenoid that has been shown to fight cancer and disease by slowing down the anti-inflammatory response, although a lot of how it works remains a mystery.
How much should you eat? 3 servings of tomato or tomato-product (like red sauce or paste) per week. Did you know? Cooking tomatoes and adding a small amount of fat, like olive oil, can help improve lycopene absorption.
5. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Out of most household oils, extra virgin olive oil is one of the best for your health. It’s rich in monounsaturated fats, which can help lower bad cholesterol, keeping your arteries nice and clear. These fats also help develop and maintain your cells.
Extra virgin olive oil is also very high in polyphenols, which have been shown to offer protection against the development of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis and neurodegenerative diseases.
What’s the difference between regular and extra-virgin olive oil? Olive oils are graded using the International Olive Oil Council standards. According to these standards, extra-virgin olive oil is made from pure, cold-pressed olives and regular oil is a blend. Extra virgin oil also retains more of its olive taste and has more natural vitamins and minerals. This type of oil is best to use in salad dressings or dipping sauces. You can use regular olive oil to cook with.
How much to eat? The FDA recommends two tablespoons per day; however, the type of oil and how you eat it is important. Cooking with extra virgin olive oil destroys some of its nutritional punch, so try drizzling it over salads or just taking it by the spoonful. Also, pay attention to quality. There’s considerable fraud in the olive oil industry. Make sure your oil is estate-pressed and bottled, and bonus points if you can spot one of these designations:
- The European Union’s PDO ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ stamp
- Italy’s new 100% Quality Italian stamp
- The California Olive Oil Commission’s “Extra Virgin Seal” for California oils
6. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts are a good source of protein, healthy fats and minerals that can help fight inflammation. In fact, one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that regular consumption of nuts reduced concentrations of inflammation markers in the bloodstream, namely C-reactive protein (CRP) and Interleukin (IL-6). Walnuts, pistachios and almonds are among the best nuts that offer the most nutrition.
Seeds are high in fiber and a good source of monosaturated fats, unsaturated fats and polyphenols, which fight against inflammation. Take flaxseeds and chia seeds for example, which are incredibly high in an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic (ALA). Just make sure you’re using ground flaxseed as most of the ALA is in the shell, which is hard for our bodies to digest in its raw form.
How much to eat? About a small handful of nuts and/or seeds per day.
7. Green Tea
Green tea is a rich source of polyphenols, which as mentioned earlier act as powerful antioxidants, reducing the negative impact of free radicals. One polyphenol in particular, ECGC shows promise for limiting the production of certain molecules that trigger inflammation and joint pain in patients suffering from RA, according to one study published by the University of Michigan.
How much to drink? Some researchers say you have to drink 3-5 cups per day to reap the most rewards, but even switching your daily coffee to green tea can help.
Cherries are a rich source of polyphenols and vitamin C which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies also show that consuming cherries decreased markers for oxidative stress; inflammation; exercise-induced muscle soreness and loss of strength; blood pressure; arthritis and improved sleep. That’s a lot of health benefits in one little fruit!
How much to eat? One to two cups per week. They’re cheaper frozen, and delicious when added to smoothies. Add tart cherry juice to sparkling water for a great workout recovery drink.
9. Cruciferous Veggies like Broccoli and Cauliflower
Broccoli and cauliflower, while rich in fiber and vitamins, also contain a high level of antioxidants. Broccoli, for example, is rich in sulforaphane, an antioxidant that fights inflammation by reducing levels of cytokines, which help regulate the inflammatory response.
Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center conducted a study that concluded that participants who reported eating the most cruciferous vegetables (1.5 cups per day) had substantially less inflammation than those who ate the fewest. The women who consumed the most cruciferous vegetables had, on average, 13%-25% lower levels of three (3) important inflammatory markers in their blood.
How much to eat? 1 cup per day (and at least 2 cups of vegetables total) Note: it’s best to lightly cook broccoli and cauliflower so that they’re more digestible.
Last but not least, we have the noble bean. Often misunderstood for its potentially uncomfortable effects on the digestive system, beans pack a surprisingly healthy punch. Beans are high in fiber and magnesium, which has been shown to reduce inflammation.
How much to eat? The Mediterranean Diet—a staple in anti-inflammatory diets—recommends eating beans three times per week. Try swapping out a meaty meal for beans, which are a good source of protein.
Foods That Cause Inflammation
Just as there are foods that fight inflammation, there are foods that can contribute to it. These are often highly processed foods that break down quickly and create a rush of chemical reactions in your body, including spikes in blood sugar and cortisol. If you’re trying to stay on an anti-inflammatory diet, make sure to avoid these foods:
1. Sugar and High-Fructose Syrup
Soda is an obvious culprit, but sugar is lurking in so many products. Make sure you read the nutrition labels—anything over 6 grams of sugar is too much sugar, especially if it’s added sugar. Here’s a helpful tip to visualize how much sugar is in your food: 4 grams is equal to one teaspoon. Next time you have a bowl of cereal with 12g of sugar, imagine pouring three full teaspoons of sugar on top of your cereal—that’s how much is in it! Doesn’t that seem like a lot now that you can visualize it?
Also, beware that “sugar” comes by many names: sucrose, brown rice syrup, maltose, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, dextrose, and high fructose corn syrup among others. These are all essentially different forms of sugar and have the same inflammatory effects on your body.
3. Refined Foods
Refined foods are highly processed foods that lack nutrition. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, the refining process removes many of the most important parts of the grain, including vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Some examples include foods like white bread, white rice, crackers, chips, pastries, pasta, white flour tortillas, cookies and cakes. One of the reasons why these foods can be detrimental to our health is because of their high glycemic index (GI). The glycemic index measures how quickly a carbohydrate is broken down and causes blood sugar to spike. White rice, for example, has a GI of 89, while brown rice has a GI of only 50. When your blood sugar spikes, it becomes harder for white blood cells to fight off infection.
4. Fried Foods
While delicious, fried foods like french fries, onion rings and doughnuts are fried in oils that are typically full of harmful trans-fats. Trans-fats are a form of unsaturated fat, and the artificial kind like partially hydrogenated oils are commonly used because they become solid and shelf stable at room temperature. While that may seem like a good thing for food producers, it’s not great news for your body. Not only are trans-fats shown to increase your risk of heart disease, but observational studies have linked trans-fats to increased inflammatory markers, especially in people with excess body fat.
In summary, inflammation can be influenced by your diet. If you’re suffering from inflammation and want to feel better, try reducing your sugar and processed food intake, and switching to fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts that are high in antioxidants. These anti-inflammatory foods are delicious, versatile and scientifically proven to help.
Do thoughts of the “what if” variety keep you up at night? Are you usually the one to point out the dangers that surround you and others? Does worrying seem to be your M.O.? If you answered yes, you’re not alone. You, me and around 40% of Americans experience some degree of worry or anxiety on a regular basis according to the American Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
A little bit of worry is normal and healthy, but when does it cross the line into something else? And what’s the matter with worrying a lot in the first place? Today’s post will dive into those questions as well as provide some ways to worry a little less and live a healthier life.
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Anxiety vs. Worry
Worry and anxiety are often used interchangeably, although they really are two different things. According to the Harvard Health Blog, worry is a component of anxiety, but mainly focused on the cognitive part. This often manifests in thoughts of “I can’t do this,” or “what if this happens” that generally come and go. On the other hand, anxiety disorders are characterized by severe, persistent worry that is excessive for the situation, and extreme avoidance of anxiety-provoking situations. These symptoms cause distress, impair daily functioning, and occur for a significant period.
As Guy Winch, PhD writes, a few other key distinctions between worry and anxiety are:
- Worry can trigger problem-solving while anxiety is more diffused
- Worry creates mild emotional distress and anxiety is more severe
- Worry tends to be temporary or situational while anxiety can linger
It’s important to know the difference so that you can seek the right level of help. And while worry may only be a part of anxiety, both still put stress on the body which can impact our health and wellness over time.
This Is How Your Body Reacts to Stress
Whether it’s worrying about how you’ll make it through tomorrow’s marathon of meetings, or something bigger, like being able to afford a house, emotional stress and anxiety create a stress response in your body, beginning in your brain. Your senses send information to the amygdala, the area of your brain responsible for emotional processing, and the amygdala, in turn, interprets that stimuli to perceive safety or danger. If there’s danger perceived, it immediately sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus.
After the amygdala sends a distress signal, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. These glands respond by pumping adrenaline throughout your system, increasing your heart rate, dilating your blood vessels and allowing for more oxygen intake. From here, cortisol (otherwise known as the stress hormone) gets revved up and keeps the body on high alert. When the “threat” passes, cortisol levels fall and the parasympathetic nervous system starts calming things back down.
This would all be the perfect fight or flight response when staring down a lion, but not so helpful when stuck in traffic, or getting frustrated by a co-worker. Even persistent low-levels of stress can keep the stress-response in the “on” position, releasing adrenaline and cortisol into your system on an ongoing basis, and with it a host of unfavorable side effects, like:
- High blood pressure
- Compromised immune system
- Muscle tension
So, what’s a worry-wart to do? Is this just another thing to add to the list of things to worry about? Hopefully not! There are plenty of ways to break the cycle of worry and start feeling more calm. Read on for some of my favorite strategies.
6 Tried-and-True Ways to Stop Worrying So Much
There have been moments in my life where days were defined by fear of the unknown and what the future held. From dealing with a rare health issue to navigating toxic work environments, I’ve truly put each of these strategies to use when things felt like too much to handle. Pick one or two that you can practice over the next few weeks.
- Figure out what’s in your control. The best remedy for worry, in my experience, is to figure out what you can control, and what you can’t about the thing you’re worried about. Then, do something about the things you can control. For example, when I first moved into my apartment building, I worried about what would happen if there was a fire. (We’re on the second and third floor.) It kept me up at night. Finally, I decided that instead of worrying about what could happen, I’d be prepared. I bought fire escape ladders for the bedrooms upstairs and made sure our extinguishers were full. On the other hand, I came to terms that I couldn’t control how other renters behaved in the building. Being able to take action on what I could control was enough to give me peace of mind. This is a crucial step to stop worrying — what is in your control, and what isn’t? Give up what you can’t control. Do something about what you can.
- Use a mantra. Repeating a reassuring phrase to yourself can help in a few ways: 1) It can focus your mind on one thing, helping to shut out the thoughts of fear and anxiety, and 2) studies show that repetition actually has a calming effect on the body. Try repeating, “all is well,” or “everything is okay” to help yourself feel better. Or, check out this list of mantras to choose one of your own.
- Deep breathing. Inhale … exhale. There’s a reason why this is the oldest trick in the book. Breathing deeply supplies oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system — the one responsible for calming things down after the flight or fight response. It’s also something you can control when everything feels out of control. Focus on breathing in for 5-7 seconds and out for 5-7 seconds.
- Visualization. There are two ways to use visualization techniques to your benefit. The first is to visualize whatever you’re nervous about going well. I often use this technique when traveling, because I experience travel anxiety. I take five minutes to close my eyes and see myself arriving to the airport on time, riding in an airplane safely, and arriving at my destination calm and happy. If you want to try a different technique, visualize a place you love or that makes you feel happy and start with your senses; what do you feel on your toes? On your face? What do you smell? What do you hear? What do you taste? Practice going through your senses until you feel more calm.
- Social support. Having people to turn to for emotional support has been well-documented as a way to maintain physical and psychological health. Try talking to your friends and family about the worries that keep you up at night, and if you don’t have anyone to turn to, a counselor or therapist can help. Research therapists in your area using this handy tool from Psychology Today.
- Physical exercise. According to the ADAA, Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
When Worrying is Actually Good for You
Not all worry is bad. In fact, research has shown that worrying can also have positive effects on behavior, motivating people to take action and prepare for negative experiences and appreciate positive experiences more. For example, those with moderate worry about a chronic ache or pain, may seek out medical help and get advice on how to mitigate future injury before it becomes a bigger issue.
Worry can also help you prepare for worst-case-scenarios, and be better prepared for them. For example, we all worry from time to time how our loved ones would cope if we died, and for those who are motivated by that worry, getting life insurance or writing a will gets done, ultimately providing peace of mind and safeguarding those families. So, not all worry is created equal—and sometimes it can be just the right amount of fuel to get things done.
To Cook or Not to Cook Your Vegetables?
I will admit, I spent a good month in college trying a “raw” diet, which meant cutting out all processed and cooked foods. I had stumbled upon the diet after finding a cookbook among the library shelves claiming the numerous benefits of eating raw food. Game to try anything that promised to make my energy levels higher, skin more glowy and digestion strong as an ox, I checked out the cookbook and headed to the grocery store.
What did I learn after weeks of cold salads, raw veggie wraps and handfuls of seeds and nuts? Well, I was eating a LOT more fruits and vegetables, but I didn’t really feel any better and on top of that, the diet was expensive and unrealistic—especially for a college kid. My digestion was actually worse, and I just wanted to eat something warm. Let me tell you, there’s not much comfort in a cold salad.
So, my failed diet experiment aside, were those cookbook authors really onto something? They claimed that cooking our fruits and vegetables destroys key nutrients…but does it? Today on the blog, I dig into the research to find out how cooking impacts nutrient levels in foods!
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How Does Cooking Vegetables Impact Their Nutrients?
Long story short: the answer to this question is a bit of a mixed bag. Some foods increase their bioavailability of certain nutrients after cooking them, while at the same time, other nutrients may decrease.
Take carrots, for example. One study showed that cooking carrots actually increased their amount of beta-carotene, while at the same time decreased their levels of Vitamin C. Turns out, both the type of nutrient and the cooking method have a large effect on what happens to those nutrients.
These Nutrients Have Been Found to Increase with Cooking
- Lycopene: A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that cooking actually boosted the amount of lycopene found in tomatoes. And, guess what? According to another study that followed 198 subjects on a strict raw diet, they were all low on lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant and has been linked to health benefits ranging from heart health to protection against sunburns and certain types of cancers.
- Carotenoids: According to this study, boiled and steamed greens showed higher levels of carotenoids, while another study showed higher levels of beta carotene in boiled carrots. Beta Carotene, a form of Carotenoids, are antioxidants and can be converted into Vitamin A when released in your body. This is an especially important nutrient for growth, immune system function and eye health.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids: This study found that cooking or microwaving fish, like tuna, helped preserve its omega-3 fatty acids, unlike canning—which destroyed it.
These Nutrients Have Been Shown to Decrease with Cooking
- Vitamin C: This vitamin is highly unstable, easily degrades through oxidation and exposure to heat and dissolves in water, making it hard to withstand any cooking methods. Vitamin C is found in high amounts in broccoli, green and red peppers, and leafy greens to name a few.
- Vitamin Bs (thiamin, riboflavin, etc.): This family of vitamins is highly heat sensitive. B vitamins are important for making sure the body’s cells are functioning properly. They help the body convert food into energy (metabolism), create new blood cells, and maintain healthy skin cells, brain cells, and other body tissues.
- Some minerals like Potassium, Magnesium, Sodium, and Calcium. These minerals are critical in helping our bodies do everything from muscle contraction to nerve transmission and blood pressure regulation.
Another benefit of eating cooked vegetables is that it can be easier on our digestion. A lot of raw vegetables contain high amounts of fiber, which can be hard for our bodies to digest. Cooking vegetables can also break down their cell walls, which makes it easier to absorb some of the nutrients. Some of the vegetables that people have the hardest time consuming raw include cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, peas and mushrooms. If you love these veggies, try lightly steaming them first.
The Best Cooking Methods to Preserve Nutrients
Not all cooking methods are the same when it comes to preserving the nutrients in your vegetables. Overall, boiling, steaming and (surprise) microwaving seem to be your best options, while frying destroys the most nutrients across the board.
A January 2008 report in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry said that boiling and steaming preserves antioxidants, particularly carotenoids, better than frying in carrots, zucchini and broccoli—though boiling was deemed the best. The researchers studied the impact of the various cooking techniques on compounds such as carotenoids, ascorbic acid, and polyphenols.
Of course, time should be taken into consideration as well. The longer a food is cooked, the greater the loss of its nutrients.
Eat Your Veggies…Any Way You Like Them
All in all, while cooking a vegetable may make it lose some of its special nutrient properties, it also may enhance some. So, bottom line is it’s important to eat a mix of raw and cooked vegetables to get the full nutritional benefits of these foods. If you can only tolerate vegetables cooked, well that’s better than no vegetables at all. Follow us on social media at facebook and Instagram to learn more about the science of health and aging, and get tips on diet and nutrition.
If I were to quiz you on good sources of antioxidants, you might start rattling off things like blueberries, green tea, dark chocolate and kale, but how about “walking barefoot?” That’s right, in a practice called “grounding,” research is beginning to show possible health benefits of walking barefoot in the grass. Is this just a placebo effect from spending more time outdoors? Or is there something real about connecting with the Earth’s subtle electrical field? Let’s explore.
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Let’s Start with Free Radicals
Alright, we’re starting all the way back in high school science class. The classroom is warm, the teacher is droning on and the whir of a projector is lulling you to sleep. As you may (or may not) remember, humans are made up of atoms. Atoms, in turn, are made up of protons, neutrons (sometimes) and electrons. Protons, which have a positive charge, make up the center of the atom, like the center of our solar system. Electrons, which have a negative charge, orbit the protons, like planets orbiting the sun. Since protons and electrons have opposite charges, they attract to one another, and in equal numbers, happily go about their peaceful orbit.
However, sometimes one of those peaceful electrons can get “knocked out” of orbit, and when that happens the atom is no longer balanced. It scavenges the body looking for another electron to put back into its system, so that it can once again become balanced. (Remember, an atom wants an equal number of protons to electrons.)
These scavenging atoms are called “free radicals” and while they only live for a fraction of a second, can wreak havoc on our DNA. Research shows that free radicals can damage cells leading to chronic inflammation, cancer and other diseases.
What Does Grounding Have to Do With Free Radicals?
So what does this have to do with walking barefoot? The earth’s surface has a negative charge to it, which means it has “extra” electrons. The theory goes that coming into direct contact with the earth can help neutralize free radicals in our bodies, by giving those free radicals the extra electrons they need to become stable again. In short, the earth is our biggest antioxidant, and can give us the benefits of antioxidants—better wellbeing.
Some researchers say that our lifestyles, including wearing heavy-soled shoes, working indoors and commuting preferences have made an impact on our ability to neutralize our bodies via earth-body connections. They say this may be playing a role in our increased levels of chronic illness in Americans.
As one researcher put it, “Modern lifestyle has increasingly separated humans from the primordial flow of Earth’s electrons. For example, since the 1960s, we have increasingly worn insulating rubber or plastic soled shoes, instead of the traditional leather fashioned from hides…Obviously, we no longer sleep on the ground as we did in times past.”
Scientific Research on the Health Benefits of Grounding
There are a few studies that have looked at “grounding,” and its effects on humans. One study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that grounding reduces blood viscosity—a major culprit in cardiovascular disease. As the study author writes, “Grounding appears to be one of the simplest and yet most profound interventions for helping reduce cardiovascular risk and cardiovascular events.” While this is certainly promising, the study was small, including only 10 people, so more research should be done regarding cardiovascular improvements of grounding.
So, besides potential heart-health benefits, what else can grounding do? According to the Journal of Inflammation Research, the effects of spending time in contact with the earth are remarkable, including:
- Improved sleep
- Reduced pain
- Reduced stress
- Increased heart rate variability
- Faster wound healing
- Reduced blood viscosity
As the study puts it, spending time grounding to the earth is literally like re-charging our body’s batteries, contributing to overall reduction in stress responses and inflammation.
While these studies and a handful of others all support the benefits of grounding, critics are quick to say that these studies are too small to make any definitive statements about its use in the medical world. While I agree that more research is needed, I’ll take any excuse to get back outside and spend more time reading in the grass.
How to Try Grounding for Yourself
While there are no official recommendations for how long you should “ground” to the earth each day, some people report feeling better after just 20 minutes of walking in the grass. Here are a few more tips to try it for yourself:
- Feel free to sit on a blanket. Fabric like wool, nylon and cotton are conductive, so they won’t disrupt the charge between you and the ground.
- Can’t find a green space? Concrete is conductive as long as it’s not painted or sealed. Also avoid wood, vinyl, plastic or asphalt as these are insulating materials.
- Go for a swim: Take a dip in rivers, lakes or the ocean for a recharging experience. (Sorry, pools don’t count.)
- Try an Earthing Mat or Sheet (maybe): There is almost no scientific research on the validity of an earthing mat; however, many personal testimonials hype their efficacy. What is it? Basically, it’s a mat that plugs into a grounded outlet, transferring energy from the ground up through to the mat, even if you’re working at a desk 12 floors up.
Have you ever thought about going for a walk and then said to yourself, “why even bother? Will it even make a difference?” This happens to me most often when I’m sick or have an injury and can’t do my normal biking, running or lifting. There’s this imaginary Jillian Michaels in my head saying, “If you don’t break a sweat, it doesn’t count as a workout!”
Well fake Jillian, turns out walking is one of the best exercises that offer some of the same – if not greater – health benefits than other forms of exercise. It’s a serious underdog when it comes to providing a full-body workout with some added mental benefits. Let’s dig into the research!
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8 Mental and Physical Benefits of Walking, According to Science
1. Decrease Your Sensitivity to Stress and Pain
Ever heard of a runner’s high? Well, walker’s can get those too. Walking can release endorphins, which are responsible for making you “feel good.” According to research, endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain. With high endorphin levels, we feel less pain and fewer negative effects of stress. Does this mean I should go for a walk before going to the dentist? Probably.
2. Increase Your Ability to Recall Information
Want to make sure you remember something? Go for a 10-minute walk. A study of 80 college students tested whether or not a brief bout of physical activity could help with memory performance. Students studied 30 English nouns and were then asked to remain seated or take a brisk, 10-minute walk. The study showed that those who walked and were asked to recall the nouns, performed 25% better than those in sedentary conditions. (Wish I had known this hack back in college…)
3. Grow Your Hippocampus
A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that adults who walked for 40 minutes three times a week for a year had brain growth in the hippocampus. Want to know what happened to the control group who did stretching and toning? Their brains actually shrunk! The hippocampus plays a critical role in the formation, organization, and storage of new memories as well as connecting certain sensations and emotions to these memories. That’s why a certain smell can trigger a memory, or how you can remember people’s names and the last conversation you had—it’s all a part of the hippocampus’ job.
Scientists believe that walking helps our hippocampus create new neurons, resulting in better recall and cognitive functioning. This could all have resulted from our evolutionary need to remember where food was, what route we took, and where predators were. Even though we hopefully don’t have to deal with remembering where predators lurk today, a walking habit can make our brains stay sharp.
4. Be More Creative
There’s a reason why Beethoven and Charles Dickens were known for taking long walks—it can help inspire creative thinking. Walking not only increases blood flow to the brain, bringing along with it more oxygen and nutrients but it also helps us with divergent thinking, a thought process critical to brainstorming. Divergent thinking helps us come up with multiple solutions to a problem, often needed when trying to “think outside the box.” According to one study, “walking opens up the free flow of ideas and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.” Talk about a double-whammy!
5. Make Your Heart Healthier
Walking is an excellent aerobic activity that can improve your heart health. As reported by Harvard Health, researchers found that walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31% and cut the risk of dying by 32%. These benefits were equally robust in men and women. Protection was evident even at distances of just 5½ miles per week and at a pace as casual as about 2 miles per hour. The people who walked longer distances, walked at a faster pace, or both enjoyed the greatest protection, so pick up the pace when you can!
6. Relieve Anxiety in 10 Minutes
Psychologists found that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout when it comes to relieving the symptoms of anxiety. This can have lasting effects on our ability to manage stress and the “worn-out” feeling that comes with it. A 2008 study conducted at the University of Georgia found that just twenty minutes of low-intensity exercise, like walking, can dramatically decrease fatigue. In short, a quick walk can actually make you feel more alert and relaxed at the same time. It’s the Matcha Tea of the exercise world.
7. Boost Immune Function
According to Harvard Health Publishing, a study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder. You know what they should say … a walk a day keeps the doctor away.
8. Reduce a Sweet Tooth
A pair of studies from the University of Exeter found that a 15-minute walk can curb cravings for chocolate, and reduce the relationship between stress and wanting to eat. Walking can not only help us take our mind off the thing we’re craving, but it can help re-wire that call-and-response signal between stress and sugar.
Tips to Get Your Steps in Anywhere
According to the Mayo Clinic, the average American walks 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day, or roughly 1.5 to 2 miles. Compare that to the fact that health professionals urge us to walk at least 10,000 steps per day. Before throwing in the towel altogether, it’s important to remember that just moving in any way possible, for any amount of time is key. A new study shows that teenagers are getting less exercise than the average 60-year old—our lives are becoming more sedentary and we need to work hard to get moving. Here are a few quick tips and small reminders to sneak in more steps, anywhere.
- Park as far away as possible from your destination. Bring shoes you can walk in and change once you’re inside.
- Take the stairs (yes, we’ve heard this one a million times but it makes a difference).
- Set a timer to get up from your desk every 30 minutes for a small loop around the office.
- Walk to the grocery store, drug store, you name it. Invest in a backpack or this adorable market cart to make carrying things easier.
- Get a dog. Seriously. According to this new study, dog owners walk 22 more minutes per day than non-dog owners! The furry cuddles are a bonus.
- Try having a walking meeting. Bring a small notebook to jot down notes or use your smartphone to record audio notes.
- March in place while watching TV—extra points for jumping jacks.
- Take extra trips from the car to your house. I know it’s a quest of glory to try and bring in your latest Target run in one trip, but save your back and nab a few extra steps by bringing things in one. bag. at. a. Time.
Hopefully, all of this information proves that walking is NO joke, and even squeezing in 10 minutes here and there can make a big difference in your health and wellness. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some walking to do.