Healthy Lifestyle

Stop inflammation to relieve arthritis, back pain and depression as you age

Older adult woman cooking anti-inflammatory foods near a stove in her kitchen.


You can find relief from common age-related health conditions by managing inflammation in the body.


By Sana A. Chaudhary, MD, Rheumatology, Nuvance Health


As we age, our bodies go through numerous changes, some of which can lead to discomfort and health challenges. One common factor in many of these conditions is inflammation. Reducing inflammation in the body can improve your quality of life, especially if you are living with arthritis, back pain or depression. 


Find out what inflammation is and how managing it can ease these common ailments. After all, you have things to do, whether crushing it at work or on the pickleball court, traveling or running after your grandkids.


What is inflammation?


Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or infection. Acute inflammation is a protective mechanism that helps the body heal. However, when inflammation becomes chronic, it can contribute to various health problems, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Chronic inflammation can also worsen arthritis symptoms and back pain and has been linked to depression.



How inflammation in the body affects arthritis.


Arthritis is pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints, primarily caused by inflammation. There are different types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory arthritis.




Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis and typically occurs in the hands, back, hips and knees. OA is a degenerative joint disease, meaning the joint deteriorates over time. That is why OA is more common in older adults. Inflammation in the body can worsen OA symptoms, including joint pain and stiffness. 


Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising are great ways to reduce the risk of developing OA as you age as well as manage symptoms if you have it. Regular exercise and a healthy weight can lower inflammation in the body by boosting the immune system and preventing obesity. Read on to find more diet and exercise tips to combat inflammation.



Rheumatoid arthritis


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body, and in turn, causes inflammation. The pain and swelling from RA primarily affect the joints. As an inflammatory condition, managing inflammation is crucial in reducing pain and preventing further joint damage.



How inflammation in the body affects back pain.


If you have back pain, you are certainly not alone! Experts estimate more than 80% of people in the United States have back pain at some point in their lives. Each vertebra in the spine has two sets of facet joints, which allow your back to move. Inflammation in the body can cause pain, stiffness and swelling in these joints, just like throughout your entire body.


Osteoarthritis can also occur in the spine and cause spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column. Spinal stenosis is common in people aged 50 and older. As you can see, reducing inflammation has many benefits from managing arthritis throughout your body to your delicate spine.



In addition to diet, exercise and other lifestyle habits, which we will get into later, here are ways to reduce inflammation and improve back pain symptoms:


  • Physical therapy: Tailored exercises can strengthen back muscles and reduce inflammation.


  • Posture: Maintaining good posture reduces strain and inflammation on the spine.


  • Heat therapy: Applying heat can soothe inflamed areas and alleviate pain.


  • Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be effective in managing pain and inflammation.



How inflammation in the body affects depression.


Major life changes might trigger age-related depression, such as balancing work and family responsibilities, transitioning from a career to retirement or losing loved ones. Some people might feel isolated if poor eyesight keeps them from driving to activities or hearing loss prevents them from engaging with others. 



Thankfully, there are ways to stay engaged through fitness centers, transportation services and accessibility tools such as eyeglasses and hearing aids. Many people are also starting second careers and new sports at any age.



I bet you can guess what else you can do to reduce the risk of age-related depression: Manage inflammation in the body!


Emerging research suggests a link between inflammation and depression, especially in older adults. Studies also suggest chronic inflammation might affect brain health and mood. Inflammation may affect the neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for feeling pleasure, thinking and moving — all signs of depression. Interestingly, people with autoimmune diseases that cause inflammation have high rates of depression.



How to reduce inflammation in the body. 


Living a long life brings many experiences, memories and wisdom. You deserve to continue living your best life without arthritis, back pain or depression getting in your way. Keep inflammation at bay by following these tips:


  • Eat a healthy diet: Colorful fruits and vegetables filled with antioxidants, fiber-rich whole grains and lean proteins can reduce inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, can also reduce inflammation and boost mood.


  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise boosts your immune system and mood and helps you maintain a healthy weight, which, in turn, all reduces inflammation. In addition to managing inflammation, use exercise to stay engaged and social, such as joining a paddle tennis league or walking club.


  • Maintain healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can exacerbate age-related health conditions because the body is in a state of low-grade chronic inflammation.


  • Sleep well: Getting enough sleep can reduce inflammation in the body because your body repairs itself when you slumber.


  • Stress less: Chronic stress can mess with your immune system and cause an imbalance in inflammation in the body.


  • Reduce or avoid drinking alcohol: Drinking alcohol can trigger inflammation because it is a toxin, and toxins can cause inflammation in the body. Alcohol also contains sugar and can weaken the immune system, which both affect inflammation.


  • Stop smoking: Smoking triggers inflammation because it is toxic to the body.


Speak with your doctor before making major lifestyle changes. They can provide a personalized approach and support. Book now with a primary care provider.


The bottom line: Understanding and managing inflammation can be a game-changer for people dealing with arthritis, back pain and depression. By adopting lifestyle changes and working with healthcare professionals, it is possible to reduce inflammation and enhance overall well-being. If you are struggling with these conditions, consider discussing inflammation management strategies with your doctor. Together, we can work toward a healthier, more comfortable life.