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7 Ways This 73 Year Old Fights ‘Inflammaging’ to Look This Good

Looking and feeling great after 50 means keeping chronic, low-grade inflammation from damaging our cells. Chef Babette Davis has a lifestyle we can learn from.  

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What helps you feel and look your best? Have you changed your nutrition, fitness or other self-care practices to best fit your age and stage? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

How in the world does our friend Chef Babette Davis look and feel so great at age 73? Because, when you see her, she is glowing, with her virtually wrinkle-free skin and strong and fit body. Plus, she (amazingly) seems to have energy for days.

Davis, a fitness and nutrition enthusiast who reaches more than 380,000 followers on Instagram @chefbabette is also co-owner and head chef of Stuff I Eat, a plant-based restaurant in Inglewood, California. She has been taking her self-care to the cellular level, with some simple and helpful lifestyle changes. And it’s these lifestyle changes that can help her navigate a phenomenon called “inflammaging,” the chronic low-grade inflammation observed during aging.

So, let’s talk about inflammaging, including more about what it is, why we should care, and how lifestyle choices like Davis’s can help fight it.

Why inflammaging can be a concern for Black women

There are lots of health-related issues to be aware of as we age, so why is inflammaging one of them?

First, let’s be clear that inflammaging is chronic (aka long-term), and is not the same as short-term or “acute” inflammation. (Acute inflammation is your “immune system’s response to a sudden injury or illness” and happens when inflammatory cells travel to the site of the infection or injury and start the healing process, Cleveland Clinic confirms.)

So, inflammaging matters because it’s associated with aging and because it’s chronic. It’s also “characterized by increased levels of circulating proinflammatory cytokines,” as researchers note in the April 2021 issue of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, and it can “drive” age-associated conditions such as dementia, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes. Inflammaging can even affect our skin, which can become more fragile and susceptible to infection as we age, though its contribution “is not well-understood,” the same researchers note.

Plus, in addition to age-related inflammation, we also may face inflammation from other sources. For instance, “lifetime and job discrimination are linked to greater inflammation in Black women,” according to an exploratory 2023 study in Social Science and Medicine. The environment also plays a role in inflammation, as tissue inflammation may result from exposure to factors such as environmental chemicals, germs, and radiation, notes the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. And the drop in estrogen that comes with perimenopause (aka “the menopause transition”) also “sets off a wave of low-grade inflammation that can lead to body-wide complaints,” including digestive woes, stiff and achy joints, dry eyes, and even heart palpitations (which you should track if they happen, as this can indicate an underlying heart problem), as Harvard Health Publishing notes.

Whew. It’s a lot. But even though inflammation can feel bad and slow you down, you can try to reduce it. So we talked with Davis about what she’s doing.

What Chef Babette is doing

She’s not superhuman and is doing her best along the way, just like many of us. So here’s what Davis is doing that works for her and aligns with medical findings.

She’s smart about her sweet tooth. Yes, sugar is tasty, but this taste can come at a price. For instance, inflammation-causing foods include cured meats with nitrates, foods high in salt, fried foods, and (yep) refined carbohydrates like sugar and white bread, Cleveland Clinic reports. So even though her sweet tooth goes back to childhood when her mother “put sugar in everything,” today Davis avoids processed foods and consumes sweets conscientiously. For instance, she makes her own juices and sweetens them with organic pineapple to sip on a fresh blend that tastes like Kool-Aid.

She eats anti-inflammatory foods and spices. It’s also important to note that many foods can fight inflammation, including fatty fish such as salmon, leafy greens, and fresh fruits, confirms Cleveland Clinic. Since Davis’s diet is plant-based, she’s a big fan of leafy greens in salads and as an ingredient in her tasty green juices. “I’m into chlorophyll. I’m just into green drinks,” she explains. She also loves “a lot of ginger” (which has anti-inflammatory properties, the Arthritis Foundation confirms), and consumes it in her juices and sometimes as a snack (via the ginger chews she orders online).

Related: Learn more about how Davis’s diet helps her have flat abs—and the simple exercise that helps, no crunches required.

She does intermittent fasting. “Some research suggests that intermittent fasting may be more beneficial than other diets for reducing inflammation and improving conditions associated with inflammation,” according to Mayo Clinic. For instance, Cambridge scientists describe how “fasting raises levels of a chemical in the blood known as arachidonic acid, which inhibits inflammation,” in research published in Cell Reports in 2024.

And while “there’s a chance that trying a detox or cleanse may create a health issue instead of resolving one,” notes Cleveland Clinic, Davis turned to a cleanse after injuring her knee in December 2023. (She went extra hard sprinting on the treadmill at the gym, and felt an unfortunate “pop” later that day when she went to bend down.) “I knew I really needed to cut some of the inflammation to hurry along the healing process,” she explains. “I love intermittent fasting.“

If you’re interested, talk to your trusted health care provider about what’s right for you. For instance, Davis points to options like just drinking water for one day, or trying a change for three days.

She exercises, but doesn’t overdo it. In the past, Davis did 100 push-ups to celebrate her 72nd birthday. But after being injured, and taking some time off from her typical workouts, she says, “I feel worse physically now that I have not been moving the way that I normally do.” So she’s getting back into the swing of things, one push-up at a time. “I just get back into it, do as many as I can do, and then just start adding to it, until I’m stronger again,” she says, also suggesting brisk walking over running.

Related: Read more about how Davis has toned her arms with pushups, and how you can, too, at any fitness level.

She prioritizes social connections. “Social isolation was robustly associated with increased inflammation in adulthood, both in medical patients and in the general population,” researchers note in the January 2024 issue of Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. And sadly, loneliness and social isolation also increase the risk for premature death by 26% and 29% respectively, reports The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community. The report adds that poor or insufficient social connection also is associated with increased risk for anxiety, depression, and dementia. But Davis is taking steps in the right direction by having strong connections with the people around her, including her personal trainers who support her in the gym, and her husband (who she met when she was “about to be 40”). In fact, she and her husband “came on this journey together,” and he fed Davis her first vegan meal, she says.

She gives herself love. “Self-compassion means showing compassion towards ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate,” according to Harvard Health Publishing. Self-compassion “may serve as a protective factor against stress-induced inflammation and inflammation-related disease,” suggest the findings of an older, small study published in 2014 in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. And Davis has learned to give herself a lot of self-compassion, as she works to stay fit. “It’s practicing self-love and self-care to be consistent,” she explains. “Rather than trying to hurry along something, consistency is more important than trying to rush something.”

She focuses on her own journey. You may be tempted to think certain celebrities, online icons, or even that It Girl next door seem farther along than you. Especially if you’re dealing with an injury, health condition, or another issue like fatigue. But the work to fight inflammation, and to manage other health conditions, is yours to do at your pace. And it’s important to reduce your stress, including any that comes from comparisons or unrealistic expectations, as “chronic inflammation can accompany unmanaged high stress levels,” Cleveland Clinic notes.

“Even the strongest people in the gym will say, ‘I still need to work on this, or, I need to work on that. I don’t know any of us who’s running 100%,” says Davis. “Your journey is your journey. It has nothing to do with that other person,” she adds. So focus on your path. Be gentle with yourself. And live as well as you can.

What helps you feel and look your best? Have you changed your nutrition, fitness or other self-care practices to best fit your age and stage? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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