Immune Boosting Tips for Older Adults

‘Tis the Season… for cold, flu, and all of the other wonderful germs floating around town, trying to invade your home!  For some, these illnesses are a mere discomfort and inconvenience, thwarting your weekend plans and forcing you to use vacation days at work.  You can expect to hunker down for the next few days, armed with light colored Gatorade, saltines, and a shelf full of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, all while keeping your bucket and Tylenol within arm’s reach.  In most instances, healthy individuals will bounce back in a week’s time, and life, as you know it, will resume.  However, for the immunocompromised and seniors, the risk of flu-related complications can be much higher, even resulting in pneumonia and/or hospitalization.

As you age, your immune system begins to weaken, making it more difficult to fight off infections.  Your body becomes less effective in warding off illness and your recovery time slows down.  Fortunately, a healthy lifestyle can improve immune health, promoting optimal bodily functions, including fighting diseases and illnesses.  Explore these 5 immune building tips to ensure that you are ready to take on cold and flu season in the months to come.


1. A Good Night’s Sleep 

Quality sleep is a key component of overall health.  While you’re sleeping, your body is busy performing a number of repairing and maintaining tasks to prepare you for the day ahead!  The amount of sleep you get, along with the quality of sleep, directly impacts both your physical and mental health.  Your mood, blood sugar, heart function, mental function, immune system, stress levels, and physical performance are just a few areas affected by sleep.  Chronic sleep loss can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to common infections.  Furthermore, a continued pattern of insufficient sleep can increase the risk of immunodeficiency.


2. Nutrition

Proper nutrition is required for all cells to function optimally, including the cells in the immune system.  A diet rich in a variety of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals can effectively support your overall health.  Vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and probiotics are recognized as key factors in regards to building and maintaining a strong immune system.  A well-balanced diet should consist of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds.  Incorporating these foods into your daily diet will assist you in naturally sourcing the immune boosting nutrients needed to promote good overall health.


3. Stay Hydrated 

Over 70 percent of the human body is composed of water, so it’s no surprise that proper hydration plays a key role in staying healthy.  Water is essential for nutrient absorption.  You can eat a healthy diet all day long, but without adequate hydration, your cells will not properly absorb the nutrients into the bloodstream.  Additionally, water is a key component in the important fluid in your immune system, known as the lymphatic fluid.  This fluid contains lymphocytes, a specialized white blood cell responsible for helping the body fight infection.  As it circulates throughout your body, it helps to remove waste, toxins, and impurities, such as viruses and bacteria.  The lymphatic system serves as a natural drainage system within the body.  Made up of nearly 96 percent water, the lymphatic flow slows down as water in the body is decreased. 


4. Get Moving

Exercise is directly linked to blood and lymph flow!  It’s amazing how all of our bodily functions are interconnected and dependent on one another.  Exercise causes your muscles to contract, which in turn, increases the flow of blood and lymphatic fluid throughout your body.  As noted above, the lymphatic fluid is responsible for circulation of immune cells throughout your body.  Thus, exercise helps to move immune cells throughout your body at a higher rate and higher numbers.  Incorporating a brisk 45-minute walk into your daily routine, a couple of days a week, can promote a stronger immune system.   


5. Reduce Stress

When we are stressed, our body releases a hormone known as cortisol.  This is regulated by the adrenal gland and causes a “flight-or-flight” response from the body.  It helps to suppress inflammation, regulate blood pressure and blood sugar, and aids in controlling your metabolism.  Chronic exposure to cortisol can have a negative effect on the immune system.  Its acidic nature can impede lymphatic flow, weakening your immune system or causing it to become “resistant”.  Deep breathing, connecting with others, spending time outdoors, and time management and organization are all ways that you can reduce stress in your life.