The immune system is the body’s first line of defense against viruses and infections, but the aging process can weaken the immune system, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak. Seniors have a higher risk of developing flu complications resulting in hospitalization or, in some cases, death. In fact, a 2013 analysis found that between 70% and 90% of seasonal flu-related deaths and between 50% and 70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occur in adults age 65 and older.
Taking steps to strengthen your immune system can help you fend off common colds and other illnesses, reducing your risk of developing serious complications like pneumonia. While these tips can help you stay healthy, currently there is no cure or treatment for COVID-19. If you think you have COVID, please get in touch with your primary care doctor. Here’s a look at a few of the ways you can boost your immune system to bolster your body’s natural defenses.
Keep Your Vaccinations Up to Date
Vaccinations help to protect you against certain illnesses, such as the seasonal flu, pneumonia, tetanus, and pertussis (commonly known as whopping cough). Talk with your primary healthcare provider to ensure all your regular vaccinations are up to date and find out if there are other vaccinations your provider recommends for you. For instance, the pneumonia vaccine is recommended for adults age 65 and older, and there are two types of shingles vaccines available for adults over the age of 50 or 70.
Follow a Balanced, Nutrient-Rich Diet
Eating a healthy diet rich in essential nutrients is one of the best ways to maintain a strong immune system. Avoid foods and beverages that are high in sugar, as sugar can curb immune cells that fight against bacteria. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables which are rich in nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D, beta carotene, and other essential vitamins and minerals. Try to consume a good source of protein with each meal, such as yogurt, milk, or lean meats. If you struggle with preparing meals or grocery shopping for healthy ingredients, there are several food services for the elderly that offer balanced meals, some of which can be delivered straight to your door.
Consider a Daily Multivitamin
To ensure that you’re getting the recommended daily allowance of all the essential vitamins and minerals, consider adding a multivitamin to your daily regimen. While most people can take a multivitamin without concern, you should always talk to your healthcare provider before taking any vitamins or supplements. It’s also a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about whether you’re deficient in any specific nutrients. In some cases, these deficiencies can be corrected or controlled with the addition of a daily supplement.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation can hinder the body’s production of cytokines, a type of protein that targets inflammation and infection. Not only does a lack of sleep hinder the immune system, but it leaves you feeling foggy and sluggish – not the best recipe for coping with a sore throat or a case of the sniffles. Visit this article for tips on getting a good night’s rest.
While avoiding every stressor in life is impossible, seniors who find positive outlets and activities that can help to minimize stress may benefit from a stronger immune system. That’s because stress wreaks havoc on the body’s natural defenses, releasing a stress hormone called corticosteroid that suppresses the immune system by lowering the number of lymphocytes, or the white blood cells that destroy invading viruses and bacteria. Find a stress-busting activity you enjoy, such as meditation, a relaxing stroll through nature, or a creative outlet such as painting.
It’s important for older adults to remain as physically active as possible throughout life. While you may not be as fit as you used to be, regular physical activity such as taking a walk, practicing yoga, swimming, or bicycling can reduce the release of stress hormones while also reducing your risk of developing chronic conditions like heart disease. Regular exercise can boost immune system regulation and effectiveness, not to mention, it helps to boost strength and overall well-being.
Most people don’t drink enough water each day, no matter their age. For seniors, staying hydrated is an important part of maintaining a strong immune system. Hydration helps to keep mucous membranes moist, especially during the dry winter months, which helps to prevent viruses and bacteria from entering. And, drinking plenty of water supports blood flow, which supplies your organs and tissues with the oxygen they need to function at their best.
Wash Your Hands – and Use Precautions Around Those Who are Sick
You can’t always avoid coming into contact with someone who’s sick, but always wash your hands after being around anyone who is ill, especially before touching your face, such as your eyes or nose. Other precautions, such as wiping down your counters and table with an antibacterial solution, can help to prevent illnesses from spreading to others in the home. Face masks are a great way to prevent spreading germs from yourself onto others and are recommended by the CDC.
For older adults, maintaining a healthy immune system isn’t just important for avoiding a miserable cold – it might save your life. Follow these tips to maintain a strong, healthy immune system and lower your risk of developing potentially serious complications from common colds and infections.
If you or your loved one suspect you are sick with COVID-19, please get in touch with your primary care doctor.
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