“Wanna take a sit break?” said no desk-bound employee, ever. Most of corporate America is already sitting for eight to 10 hours daily, so instead, we “stretch our legs,” “step out for air,” or “take a walk around the block.” Basically, we do anything we can to get the blood moving because, well, sitting all day leaves us feeling lethargic and just plain crappy. Which makes a lot of sense considering being glued to a chair is slowly, but surely, killing us—and making us sick and fat in the process.
Science backs this up: Prolonged sitting has been linked to everything from increased hunger and inflammation (which both lead to obesity and belly fat) to high blood pressure and high blood sugar. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking,” now you know where it stems from. But the damage doesn’t stop there. In addition to these preventable diseases, spending too much time on your behind can also result in tight hip flexors, back pain, weak glutes, and rounded, sore shoulders which are all things that can decrease the effectiveness of your workout or lead to a disabling injury, Piya Tony Vacharasanee, NASM, ACSM, of Body Space Fitness in New York City tells us. All that from an innocent-looking swivel chair. Pretty terrifying, right?
It’s not all bad news, though. Tweaking your diet is an easy way to diminish the health risks associated with sitting. “Anti-inflammatory foods like avocados and fish will not only improve your health and wellness, they’ll counteract the inflammation brought on by sitting, too,” explains Vacharasanee. A number of nutrients have been shown to fight inflammation (and subsequently ward off the associated conditions) by “turning off” inflammatory genes. Add these recommended foods that follow into your diet to “undo” the damage of your 9-to-5 and you’ll be on your way to a leaner, healthier you. And for the best results, be sure to avoid these 14 Foods That Cause Inflammation, too!
Good news, fruit lovers, regularly eating berries has been shown to significantly reduce inflammation, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition. It’s all because they contain powerful flavonoids called anthocyanins that “turn off” inflammatory genes and give the fruit their deep, rich hues. Blueberries, which have more anthocyanins than any other berry, are also rich in vitamin C and resveratrol, both or which have been shown to knock-out inflammatory free radicals. To reap the benefits, add berries to your morning smoothie, pair it with other fruits to make a salad, or add them to your overnight oats with some crunchy almonds for a simple—yet wholesome—breakfast.
Although not as powerful as animal-based omega-3s (which are found in fatty fish), nuts are a great source of a plant-based, anti-inflammatory omega-3 known as ALA. While walnuts have more ALA than any other nut, almonds are one of the best sources of antioxidant vitamin E, which helps protect cells from oxidative damage (a byproduct of inflammation). Since each nut has their own special attributes and healthy benefits, Vacharasanee suggests making a homemade trail mix with a variety of unsalted nuts and seeds.
Pineapple contains powerful anti-inflammatory called bromelain. Though every part of the fruit is sprinkled with the stuff, most of it resides in the stem, which tends to be a little on the tough side. Try blending the core with the sweeter flesh to reap the inflammation-reducing benefits. Try it in our Pina Colada Smoothie, it’s one of our 15 Healthy, 5-Ingredient Breakfast Ideas.
Like ibuprofen, olive oil fights inflammation by preventing the production of pro-inflammatory COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes. It can also slash the risk of cardiovascular disease and aid weight loss which is why it’s one of these 20 Best Full-Fat Foods for Weight Loss. Reap the benefits by making olive oil your cooking fat of choice and using it when preparing dressings and sauces.
You can thank curcumin for turmeric’s beautifully bright, yellow-orange color—but that’s not all it’s good for. This active compound has been found to contain potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which is why Vacharasanee recommends that you fit it into your diet. “Curcumin wards off inflammation by shutting off the production of pro-inflammatory enzymes,” he explains. Not only that, the spice may also help to whittle your middle. One USDA study discovered that mice supplemented with turmeric experienced reduced weight gain and body fat levels even when their diet was unchanged. Not sure how to use the stuff in your cooking? Check out these 21 Winning Turmeric Recipes for some culinary inspiration.
Flavorful, pungent garlic does more than make your roasted vegetables taste a million times better, it may also ward off inflammation, according to a review in the journal Medicinal Chemistry. Taking an aged-garlic supplement provides the highest concentration of bioavailable compounds, but studies have also shown that fresh garlic can provide subtle benefits. Just be sure to crush the garlic first to kickstart production of the bioactive allicin compound (this tip is just one of these 20 Ways to Boost the Nutrient Content of Your Food). More good news in garlic-ville: Recent studies have shown that garlic supports blood-sugar metabolism and helps control fat levels in the blood.
There are some really blow-your-mind good reasons Vacharasanee recommends sipping green tea. (And no, the sugary green tea lattes at Starbucks don’t count.) The humble drink that’s been cherished as a health miracle for centuries can now add counteracting sitting-induced inflammation and weight gain to its long and impressive resume. Thanks to its high epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and polyphenol content, green tea is a stronger anti-inflammatory elixir than any other type of tea, suggests a Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research report. To learn more about the health and waist-slimming powers of tea, pick up a copy of The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse! Test panelists lost up to 4 inches from their waist!
If you love your Chipotle with extra guac, this is the anti-inflammatory food for you. Packed with inflammation-quelling oleic fatty acids, avocados can ward off and help reduce the inflammation in muscle cells, suppresses insulin resistance, and even help reduce belly fat. A study in the journal Diabetes Care discovered that a diet rich in monounsaturated fat may actually prevent body fat distribution around the belly by downregulating the expression of certain fat genes. Add some slices to a salad or sandwich or peruse on these tasty avocado recipes for some creative ways to see the fruit to your diet. (Yes, that’s right, avocados are considered to be a fruit!)
Many manufactured foods (think: Big Macs, Oreos, etc.) are made with dangerous trans fats or vegetable oils (soy, corn, sunflower, safflower, palm oil, etc.) which have a high concentration of inflammatory omega-6s and are low in anti-inflammatory omega-3s. That’s why Vacharasanee recommends steering clear. In fact, Americans are eating so many vegetable-oil-laden products that the average person has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of around 20:1 when it should be 1:1. To increase the ratio of good to bad fats in your body, Vacharasanee suggests dialing back on your consumption of junk foods and low-quality oils and increasing the omega-3s to your weekly diet. Fatty fish, like wild salmon, is one of the most potent sources of the nutrient in the grocery store.
Flaxseed is another potent source of inflammation-fighting ALA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid. In fact, it carries more of the nutrient than any other fat source. Know this, though: Flaxseed is highly sensitive and easily oxidized, so to reap the health benefits, buy whole flaxseed and grind it just before you want to eat it. Still not convinced flax is worth your time? Consider this: A recent study found that regularly consuming omega-3s like flax and flaxseed oil can improve the body’s ability to metabolize fat. Sounds like a good reason to stock up if you ask us!
Getting off your tush and moving around is another vital part of the puzzle. Whether you’re at the office or on your couch, Vacharasanee suggests taking a “walk break” every half hour. Head to the bathroom, grab a green tea, go wherever you want (except for maybe the vending machine); just move. “If for some reason you can’t get up, be sure to at least fidget and stretch your arms and legs in your seat,” says Vacharasanee, adding, “This helps improve the tissue quality of tight muscles, returning them to their natural state. Also, these movements require energy, and the calories add up so it’s better than nothing.”