Chronic Inflammation and Its Impact on Aging 

While we might wish for our bodies to maintain optimal function throughout our lives, the reality is that as we age, our cells experience a decline in efficiency, often manifesting as minor aches and pains. Some individuals undergo more pronounced changes, such as the onset of heart disease, kidney issues, arthritis and other age-related conditions. 

Many of these negative aspects of aging can be linked to persistent inflammation, commonly referred to as chronic inflammation. But what is chronic inflammation exactly, and how does it impact the aging process? 

Today, we aim to answer these questions and provide guidance on reducing inflammation to improve longevity and enhance your quality of life. 

What Is Chronic Inflammation? 

Chronic inflammation occurs when you have long-term inflammation that lasts months at a time, possibly even years. With this type of inflammation, there isn’t always an injury that needs to be healed. Rather, your body incorrectly signals to your immune system that there’s something wrong and works to fix it. 

There are several potential causes of chronic inflammation, including: 

  • Persistent infections 
    If you’ve had several viral or bacterial infections, they can trigger an ongoing inflammatory response. 
  • Autoimmune disorders 
    Autoimmune conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, can cause chronic inflammation by prompting the immune system to mistakenly attack the body’s tissues. 
  • Poor sleep 
    Stress can make it more challenging to get adequate sleep. Disruption of your circadian rhythm can lead to a weakened immune system and increased inflammation. 
  • Aging 
    As you age, the accumulation of free radicals — the destructive molecules produced internally and encountered from external sources, such as UV rays and pollution — contribute to your body’s inflammation. Additionally, mitochondrial dysfunction becomes more commonplace, occurring when the mitochondria in your cells don’t work as effectively and further contribute to inflammation. 

How Does Chronic Inflammation Impact the Aging Process? 

Throughout your life, your immune system works to protect your body from diseases caused by bacteria and viruses. It does so by initiating an inflammatory response to eliminate any troublesome invaders and assist the healing process. 

However, as you age, sometimes your immune system triggers a constant, low-level inflammation, even when there’s nothing wrong internally. In recent years, researchers have coined a term for this ongoing low-grade inflammation in older age: inflammaging. When inflammaging persists over the long term, it has the potential to lead to various health conditions, including: 

  • Heart disease 
  • Sarcopenia 
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Frailty syndrome 
  • Hypertension 
  • Diabetes 
  • Cancer 

How to Reduce Inflammation and Age With Vitality 

Chronic inflammation and inflammaging can affect many aspects of an individual’s health and contribute to a variety of age-related diseases. While you may not be able to completely prevent inflammation as you age, there are proactive measures you can take to slow down the process, promoting overall health and well-being: 

  • Reduce unhealthy habits 
    It may go without saying, but we’ll go ahead and say it: Certain habits, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, can worsen chronic inflammation. To help you limit these habits, you can find support from family, friends and counselors, explore healthier alternatives and adopt stress management strategies to equip yourself with more effective coping mechanisms. 
  • Get enough sleep  
    Adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night to perform at their peak — and to keep their immune systems functioning optimally. Try creating a nightly routine that includes lying down at the same time, turning off electronic devices and taking part in activities that help your mind wind down, such as reading, journaling, gentle stretching or meditation. 
  • Incorporate regular exercise 
    If you’re new to exercising, you can start by taking a 15-minute walk five times a week, gradually increasing the duration as you build stamina. On the other hand, if you’re no stranger to physical activity, consider incorporating more strenuous exercises into your routine. This may include strength training, yoga, swimming or other activities that elevate your heart rate and support immune function. 

Become a Catalyst in Reducing Chronic Inflammation in Older Adults 

As individuals reach the age of 65 and older, they face an increased risk of inflammaging. This condition has the potential to elevate the likelihood of several health conditions, posing risks to their well-being and, ultimately, their lifespan. 

From gerontologists to dieticians and physical therapists, you can become part of an elite group of healthcare professionals who work in the field of aging, working to improve health outcomes for the growing American elderly population. The University of Florida proudly offers several online graduate credentials for working professionals interested in deepening their understanding of age-related diseases and geriatric care. 

If you’re interested in giving your resume an edge and getting a taste for geriatrics, our online Graduate Certificate in Aging and Geriatric Practice is the ultimate starting point. This 15-credit program provides a robust foundation in the field of aging. In addition, if you decide to pursue one of our master’s degrees in gerontology or medical physiology and aging, you can apply all 15 credit hours toward your degree (so long as you’re accepted and earn a “B” or higher). 

However, if you feel confident that your future lies in the field of aging, you can dive right in with one of our online master’s degree programs: 

The process of aging waits for no one. Start your journey toward changing the lives of older adults and apply to the program that’s right for you today