How can we help aging adults to have a strong immune system? by Nola @ Home Care
As we age, our immune system becomes less efficient and starts to weaken when responding to infections. Therefore, the risk of complications from the coronavirus outbreak is higher for seniors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By living a healthy, active lifestyle with healthy-living strategies, aging adults can potentially strengthen their immune system to better prevent and fight diseases. There are strategies that older adults can incorporate to give their immune systems a boost.
Washing your hands
Practicing good hand hygiene by washing your hands often and thoroughly can help prevent the spread of germs from one person to another as well as passing on to yourself. The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. A good tip to be sure you have washed long enough is to sing the alphabet in your head. It is recommended to wash your hands:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating
- After using the toilet
- Before and after treating a wound
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- After changing a diaper
- After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
Eating nutritious meals
A healthy diet is very important to a maintain a strong immune system. While this is important at every age, it is especially important for seniors to consume nutritious meals. To eat a well-balanced diet, you will need to include a variety of vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, fruits, and a variety of proteins. A weakened immune system and poor nutrition can affect heart health which lead to diabetes and other diseases and illnesses. Vitamins and minerals are essential help to keep our immune system strong. Although you can take vitamins and supplements it is recommended to get these nutrients from foods because as we age the body absorbs and processes medications and supplements differently. Talk to your doctor about whether you should take any additional vitamin or mineral supplements.
Here are some examples of foods we should eat to maintain a strong immune system:
- Vitamin A – spinach, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes
- Vitamin C – Oranges, grapefruits, lemon, lime
- Vitamin E – nuts and almonds, peanut butter, pumpkin, red bell pepper
- Protein– lean meats, beans, eggs, poultry, peas, seafood
- Zinc – lean meats, whole grains, poultry, milk, beans
Regular physical activity can help older adults stay healthy, strong, and independent but regular exercise can also support immune health. Exercising for 30 minutes per day at least five days a week can help you fight off illness and give you more energy. Avoid sitting for long periods of time as a sedentary lifestyle is linked to health problems from high blood pressure to diabetes.
Encourage your aging loved ones to find enjoyable activities that match their fitness level such as a short walk around the block or yoga.
Stress management is an important aspect of immune health that people are not usually aware of. Studies show that chronic stress can wreak havoc on your immune system and hinders your immune system’s ability to fight inflammation and infections. There are a variety of ways to manage stress without medication by participating in enjoyable activities such as walking, swimming, journaling, yoga, deep breathing exercises and meditation.
Healthy Sleep Habits
People who do not sleep well tend to have more inflammation, which means their immune system is most likely working overtime. Insufficient sleep can hinder your immune system’s ability to respond to inflammation and infection. Healthy sleep habits are especially important for older adults who are more susceptible to inflammation, infection, and fatigue. Health experts recommend eight hours of quality sleep per night.
Adequate hydration is also a key factor in boosting immune function. Water helps your body absorb nutrients and minerals, and flush body waste. It is recommended to drink at least eight to nine glasses of fluid a day to help you avoid dehydration. A good rule of thumb is to drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water every day. It may be handy to keep a water bottle nearby to sip throughout the day. If you have a hard time drinking water mix it up with caffeine-free tea or coffee, milk, broth, or natural fruit juice.
Minimize Alcohol Intake
Excessive alcohol consumption can weaken your immune system and make you more vulnerable to infections. Healthy older adults should limit alcoholic beverages to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Work with your physician to stay current on immunizations to help boost your immune system. As we age and our immune system changes it makes it more difficult to fight off a cold or the flu which leads to getting sick more often. Most physicians recommend an annual flu shot, as well as shingles, Tdap, and pneumonia vaccines. Complications of the flu can be especially severe in older adults, but the flu vaccine may reduce their risk of flu-related illness by up to 60%, according to the CDC.