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How to Boost Your Aging Immune System

By Martha Michael

Aging and the Immune System

No one is immune to aging and the challenges that come with the territory. But by putting into practice some strategies to boost your immune system you won’t just get older -- you can also get better.

Declining Immune Response

As you enter your sixth decade, you begin a downturn in your ability to fight infection, according to medical experts. An article in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, or ATS, says that your immune system declines in the later years of life.

As our immune systems get older and less able to react to pathogens, we become more susceptible to cancers and infections. Many diseases that plague older Americans are caused by chronic inflammation, which a healthy immune system is designed to minimize.

Diseases resulting from tissue-damaging inflammation include Alzheimer’s disease, osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease. Aging can also accelerate respiratory conditions such as pulmonary fibrosis, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

Some of the most damaging aspects of an aging immune system are:

  • Impaired response to vaccines
  • Lack of protection against malignancies
  • Less resistance to inflammation
  • Chronic viral infections such as shingles
  • Susceptibility to respiratory infections
  • Lower ability to repair wounds

“Human survival is closely linked to a functional immune system, which protects the host against infections and malignancies, regulates wound healing, and ultimately separates ‘self’ from surrounding organisms that compete for space and resources,” the ATS article says. “T lymphocytes are the cell type with the highest proliferative potential in the body and with a survival span of several decades are subject to wear-and-tear damage.”

T cells are white blood cells at the core of immune response to pathogens. They destroy invading cancer cells and infections. The bodies of seniors create fewer T cells and they don’t communicate as well as they do in younger bodies. That makes them slower to react, which extends recovery time when healing from infections, illnesses and injuries.

Boosting Your Aging Immune System

Senior care referral service A Place for Mom has a blog with suggestions for boosting a senior’s immune system. Because fighting off infection becomes more difficult with age, it’s important to give yourself every advantage by strengthening your immune system. Simple lifestyle changes are some of the most effective forms of boosting your immune response.

Wash Hands

One of the most important times to keep yourself from spreading germs is when preparing food. Before, after and while cooking, you need to wash hands repeatedly. Also, wash hands after using the bathroom and when caring for someone who’s ill. When you blow your nose, cough, or sneeze you need to wash your hands as well. Lather your hands for 20 seconds and rinse with warm water.

Eat a Balanced Diet

Healthy food contributes to a stronger immune system and can reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes and various cancers, as well as strengthen your bones and muscles. A balanced diet includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy foods and protein.

The vitamins and minerals in your diet should include:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Protein
  • Zinc

Stay Active

At every age, being physically active is an important lifestyle choice. Aging men and women should aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Practices such as yoga and tai chi can also promote mental acuity in addition to boosting their physical health.

Hydrate

Though you may feel less thirsty in your older years, you still need to drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated helps you absorb nutrition and flush body waste. To avoid dehydration you need approximately eight to nine glasses of fluid per day. In addition to drinking fresh water, you can boost your fluid intake with soup, milk, and tea, among other beverages.

Get Enough Sleep

Your immune system is healthier when you get the level of sleep that’s appropriate for your age. Being fully rested improves your ability to fend off inflammation and infection. It reduces the chance of becoming depressed or suffering from obesity, heart disease or type 2 diabetes.

Insomnia is a common problem for seniors. If you have trouble with your sleep schedule you may want to limit caffeine intake or increase your physical activity.

With increasing age there’s greater susceptibility to illness as your immune system responds more slowly and less effectively, but with healthier habits you can make your golden years a little bit sunnier.

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