Immune (noun): the ability of an organism to resist a particular infection or toxin by the action of specific antibodies or sensitised white blood cells.
Your immune system helps protect your body from foreign or harmful substances such as bacteria, viruses, toxins, cancer cells, and blood or tissues from another person. The immune system makes cells and antibodies that destroy these harmful substances.
For older adults, having a strong immune system is critical, especially during cold and flu seasons and now with the current COVOID-9 pandemic. Unfortunately, as we grow older our immune system does not work as well as it once did because it is slower to respond to pathogens, and it may take longer to recover due to having fewer immune cells. This leaves older adults vulnerable to infections and sickness. Boosting your immune system will be the best way to optimise your health and improve your body’s ability to respond to viruses and pathogens.
Boosting your immunity
1. Eat a healthy and nutrient-rich diet
Older adults tend to eat less and have less variety in their diets. Fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotene, vitamins C and E and zinc are essential for good health.
Apart from the benefits to one’s strength and physical functioning, regular exercise promotes circulation and heart health and also relaxes the body and mind. Aim to achieve at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise.
3. Get vaccinated
Older adults who get the flu vaccine have significantly lower rates of developing flu. Keep an eye out at your local pharmacy, as the flu vaccine is due to come out in the next week or so, and stocks will be in high demand this year- so get your flu vaccine early.
In addition to the flu vaccine, the following vaccines are also suggested for older adults, talk to your Doctor for more information.
- Shingles vaccine (Zostavax) to those aged 60-75 years. (50 years for high risk)
- Pneumovax to >70 years – younger if COPD and/or immune-compromised.
- Tetanus every 10 years for gardeners and handymen
- Pertussis (whooping cough) for those with susceptible grandchildren
4. Reduce stress
Stress has been linked to a number of illnesses, including heart disease and stomach problems. Whether it is due to isolation, social stress or other causes, stress can suppress an older person’s immune system, making one more susceptible to viruses.
One of the best natural immune system boosters, sleep helps us respond better to inflammation and stress. It’s also shown to improve our response to the flu vaccine. Consider herbal supplements or multivitamins.
6. Consider herbal supplements or multivitamins
An option for fighting infections and increasing nutrients: older adults should talk to their Doctors first before adding herbs such as echinacea, ginseng, multivitamins or probiotics to their regimen.
7. Stay hydrated
Older adults tend to sense thirst less than younger people. But older people need at least eight to nine glasses of fluid a day to keep mucous membranes moist, which lowers the chances of flu or colds.
8. Stay positive
A healthy outlook on life boosts endorphins, which make us feel good. Older adults who keep up with activities and hobbies that make them happy have a better chance of staying healthy and positive.
9. Try some superfoods
Foods like avocados, berries, broccoli and kale have been shown to improve immune system performance. Some super foods even boost cognitive function and help fight dementia.
10. Wash your hands
Washing hands regularly scrubs away germs. When washing hands remember to use soap, warm water and wash your hands thoroughly. Covering coughs and sneezes helps prevent diseases from spreading. A useful tip it to use the inside of your elbow to cover your mouth as you cough or sneeze instead of your hands.
Illness isn’t inevitable, but good habits tend to keeping older adults happy and healthy so they can enjoy the most out of life.