Synovia Simons, MS, RDN, LDN, Anita Frankhauser, MS, RDN, LDN
As you get older, your immune system may not be as resilient to infection and disease as it once was, making it easier for infections, diseases, and cancer to develop.1 Factors like genetics, physical activity, and everyday stress affect physical and psychological aging. Stressors such as alcohol abuse, drug abuse, smoking, divorce, or the death of a loved one can also affect the body and the aging process. Ultimately aging and these stressors cause the body’s immune system to weaken. Here are four tips to help ward off colds, the flu, disease, and now COVID-19.
- Stay up to date with vaccines.
Doctors recommend vaccinations as you get older to help prevent certain illnesses. Vaccines stimulate the body’s immune response against diseases; this can help to decrease the risk of infection or decrease its severity if you become ill.2 Vaccines you want to discuss with your doctor include shingles, coronavirus, and the Tdap booster shot. Tdap is tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis for whooping cough; it is administered as a child, but a booster is recommended every ten years. The flu vaccine is recommended each year.2
- Don’t smoke and limit alcohol intake.
Smoking harms the body’s immune system by causing lung inflammation, however, it is the most avoidable.1 Smoking destroys the cells that protect the body from infection. Quitting smoking is not easy, but it can be achieved; several resources assist such as Tobacco Free Florida and 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Excessive alcohol intake also harm the immune system. It decreases the body’s ability to kill foreign invaders. If you drink five or more drinks during one occasion or 8-15 drinks or more per week your drinking is considered excessive.1 Does this sound like you? Challenge yourself to be mindful about the number of drinks you’re having next time.
- Eat a balanced diet.
Eating a variety of foods consistently is essential to get all of the disease-fighting nutrients your body needs. Having an orange only when you feel bad is not enough. Taking supplements can help, but they may not be absorbed by your body and are expensive, so focus on foods first for getting your daily vitamins and minerals. Your body is much more effective at taking in nutrients from foods versus pills. See the chart below for essential immune-boosting nutrients.5
|Nutrient||Vitamin C||Vitamin E||Vitamin A||Vitamin D||Iron||Selenium||Zinc|
|Best source||Citrus fruits Spinach Kale Strawberries||Almonds Peanuts Sunflower seeds Hazelnuts||Tuna Carrots Sweet potatoes Cantaloupe Dark green leafy veggie||Salmon Mackerel Tuna Sardines Fortified milk, orange juice, & cereals.||Beef Chicken Sardine Beans Fortified cereals||Liver Meat/Poultry Tuna, halibut, sardines Cottage cheese||Oysters Baked beans Chickpeas Yogurt|
- Stress Less and sleep more
Physical activity daily may stimulate your immune function by boosting circulation. Research shows that at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week can help to promote wellness. Physical activity does more than build muscles and helps you maintain your weight; it can decrease stress.4 Too much stress lowers your number of immune fighting cells, so reducing your stress levels can help boost your immunity. Try other stress coping mechanisms like meditation, yoga, and tai chi to manage stress. Lastly, a healthy sleep routine is essential because the immune system releases chemicals that aid in infection and inflammation during sleep. Lack of sleep will cause low production of these vital chemicals, so aim to get 8 to 9 hours of sleep each night.3
Your lifestyle plays a key role in how well your body ages. It is essential to stay updated with vaccines, eat a balanced diet, limit alcohol use and not smoke. Reducing stress levels, staying active, and getting quality sleep also assist in boosting your immune system. What step will you take today?
Do you need ideas or help getting started? We can help. Call your Neighborly Registered Dietitian Nutritionist today to learn more about our free nutrition counseling service for people over age 60. 727-573-9444
- Team, F. H. (2020, February 18). How to keep your body’s defenses strong after age 65. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-tips-make-immune-system-stronger-age/.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, September 1). Immunization basics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/imz-basics.htm.
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2018, November 28). Lack of sleep: Can make you sick? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/faq-20057757.
- 5 ways to boost your immune system. Houston Methodist On Health. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://www.houstonmethodist.org/blog/articles/2020/mar/5-ways-to-boost-your-immune-system/.
- Team, W. (2021, August 3). 8 vitamins for an immune system boost. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved November 16, 2021, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/eat-these-foods-to-boost-your-immune-system/