Senior Health How to Boost Your Immune System and Fight the Flu 11/6/2020 | By Seniors Guide Staff Flu season has arrived, affecting people of all ages with symptoms including fever, chills, body aches, and coughing. While these symptoms will be relatively mild for many, those over the age of 65 could be susceptible to more serious issues and complications. Why? The reason stems from the fact that many older adults tend to have weaker immune systems. And it’s the immune system that has the task of defending them against disease-causing microorganisms. Do you want to boost your immune system? As health and wellness experts point out, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. That’s because the immune system is just what the name implies – an intricate system rather than a single entity. For it to function correctly, it needs balance and harmony. People of any age can benefit from the following immune-boosting suggestions, but these tips take on even greater significance for older adults. While there is still much that medical researchers don’t know about the immune system’s complexities, most agree that an enhanced immune function begins with a healthy lifestyle. Here are some steps you can take. Get a Flu Shot According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu vaccination reduces flu illness risk by 40% to 60%. The vaccine stimulates your immune system to create antibodies, helping to protect against infection. Fluzone and Fluad, two vaccines specifically for older adults, provide a more robust immune system response to vaccination than the standard-dose flu shot. And since the virus changes each year, you’ll need to get the flu shot annually. These shots are widely available at pharmacies and from doctors in most areas. Adopt a Healthful Diet Everyone can benefit from a nutrient-rich diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables for the vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber they provide. In the elderly, there is an even stronger connection between nutrition and immunity. A form of malnutrition known as macronutrient malnutrition is common among older adults, even in industrialized countries. It is a deficiency in essential vitamins and trace minerals caused by eating less and having too little variety in their diets. Boosting the immune system with dietary supplements might help older people, but it should be first discussed with a doctor. Exercise Regularly Regular exercise offers numerous benefits. It improves cardiovascular health, controls body weight, lowers blood pressure, and protects against many diseases. And, just as a nutritional-rich diet leads to better health and a stronger immune system, so does at least thirty minutes of physical activity for three days a week. Exercise promotes good circulation, allowing the immune system’s cells to flow through the body and do their work efficiently. And even though a strenuous workout gets more challenging with age, there are few excuses for stopping altogether. Activities like walking, biking, yoga, swimming, and a host of other low-impact exercises offer plenty of benefits for seniors. Get Enough Sleep Sleep deprivation hampers the effectiveness of the immune system. As adults age, good sleep becomes even more critical. Sleep helps improve memory, concentration, and overall brain function. Make it your goal to have at least seven and a half to nine hours of sleep each night. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Keep to a bedtime routine as much as possible, and limit your daytime naps to around thirty minutes. Stay away from caffeine late in the day, and don’t drink anything within 90 minutes of your bedtime. Reduce Your Stress Level Just like sleep deprivation, chronic stress hinders your immune system’s effectiveness. When people are under stress, their body increases the production of cortisol. This hormone helps the body contend with stressful situations by limiting bodily functions that aren’t essential in a fight-or-flight situation. Chronic stress lowers your immune system response, leaving you susceptible to viruses and other illnesses. To counteract the effects of stress, set limitations, and engage in relaxing activities such as gardening, reading, or meditation. Don’t Smoke You have likely heard this warning numerous times, but it bears repeating: the chemicals in cigarettes damage lung tissue and increase cancer risk. They wreak havoc on your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to respiratory illnesses such as the flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia. If you smoke, take steps to boost your immune system function by kicking the cigarette habit. Use a smoking cessation aid such as the nicotine patch or nicotine gum. Or talk to your doctor about medications that can reduce cravings for cigarettes. Following these suggestions is not a guarantee that you will avoid the flu, but employing these strategies can protect your immune system and keep you strong and healthy! Read More Seniors Guide Staff Seniors Guide has been addressing traditional topics and upcoming trends in the senior living industry since 1999. We strive to educate seniors and their loved ones in an approachable manner, and aim to provide them with the right information to make the best decisions possible. Related Resources The Psychology of Food Choices A salad or a cheeseburger? A fruit bowl or chocolate cake? A milkshake or a diet soda? There are many ... [Read More] 11/6/2020 | By Densie Webb Ph.D. RD Former Smoker? Screen For Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm DEAR MAYO CLINIC: My 70-year-old father-in-law smoked for more than 30 years. I read that men who used to smoke ... [Read More] 11/6/2020 | By Young Erben, M.D.