18 Aug How Seniors Can Strengthen Their Immune System
It’s no secret that the immune system weakens with age. As we age, T cell activity within our bodies slows down. Our bodies will produce the same amount of T cells, but these infection-fighting cells become less effective at defending against viruses and bacteria. Unfortunately, this often leads to more cold and flu infections. Seniors can strengthen their immune system, however, by making a few changes to their lifestyle.
Control Chronic Conditions
Keeping chronic medical conditions under control can strengthen a senior’s immune system. When left unchecked, chronic medical conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure can suppress or otherwise weaken a senior’s immune system.
Diabetes, for instance, has been shown to cause dysfunction of the immune system. According to the American Diabetes Association, over one in four seniors suffers from diabetes. Diabetes causes elevated blood sugar levels, which in turn can weaken a senior’s immune system. By controlling diabetes and other chronic medical conditions, seniors can strengthen their immune system.
Soak Up the Sun
Seniors can strengthen their immune system by spending more time outdoors. Sunlight promotes a healthy immune system in several ways. First, it consists of ultraviolet (UV) rays that kill germs on contact. Second, sunlight stimulates the production of vitamin D, which is used by the immune system to fight infections. Third, regular exposure to sunlight has been shown to improve mood and cognitive function, which may indirectly strengthen a senior’s immune system.
How much time should seniors spend outdoors exactly? Most health experts recommend a minimum of 15 to 30 minutes of sun exposure per day. Seniors who want to strengthen their immune system should strive for about 15 to 30 minutes of sun exposure per day.
Stress is closely correlated with immune system activity. Everyone experiences stress; it’s a natural bodily reaction to a perceived hazard or threat. When seniors experience high stress levels over an extended period, though, they are more likely to suffer from an infection.
Stress triggers hormonal changes within the body. Among other things, it causes elevated levels of stress hormones like cortisol. These stress hormones can suppress a senior’s immune system while making him or her more susceptible to infections as a result.
Here are some ways for seniors to manage their stress:
- Perform light-intensity aerobic exercises, such as walking or jogging.
- Engage in deep breathing or meditation.
- Participate in yoga activities.
- Socialize with friends and family members.
- Watch funny movies or videos (laughter is an effective form of medicine for chronic stress).
Get Vaccinated for the Flu
Seniors can strengthen their immune system through vaccinations. While there’s no vaccine for the common cold, there is a vaccine for the flu. The flu vaccine works like most other vaccines by triggering the production of antibodies. When administered, it prompts the senior’s immune system to produce antibodies that specifically fight the flu virus. Therefore, if the senior is exposed to the flu virus in the future, his or her immune system will be better equipped to fight it off.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are two primary types of flu vaccines for seniors: the high-dose flu vaccine and the adjuvanted flu vaccine. The latter is a newer type of flu vaccine that’s made with an additive known as MF59 adjuvant. The former is a traditional type of flu vaccine that involves a larger dose. Regardless, they are both effective at strengthening a senior’s immune system and protecting him or her against infectious illnesses.
Improve Sleep Quality
Sleep quality is closely correlated with immune system activity. According to Mayo Clinic, people who don’t get a sufficient amount of high-quality sleep are more likely to suffer from infections than their well-rested counterparts. Seniors are no exception. If a senior doesn’t get enough sleep, he or she will be at a greater risk of catching colds, the flu and other infectious illnesses.
Unfortunately, many seniors have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. As the quality of their sleep declines, they become more susceptible to infectious illnesses. Seniors can improve their sleep quality, however, by regularly exercising.
Increase Intake of Vitamins and Nutrients
Not surprisingly, eating a healthy diet can strengthen a senior’s immune system. Like most systems in the human body, the immune system is powered by vitamins and nutrients. For the immune system to perform its job, it needs these compounds. Otherwise, it may fail to defend against viruses and bacteria, resulting in infection.
Some of the most important vitamins and nutrients for a healthy immune system include vitamin C, vitamin D, iron, glutamine, protein, selenium and protein. Seniors can increase their intake of these and other essential vitamins and nutrients by eating a healthy diet. Vegetables and fruits are an excellent source of vitamins and nutrients. While there are supplements available as well, they aren’t as absorbed as effectively as foods like vegetables and fruits.