Your immune system works hard to keep you healthy and regularly fight off disease-causing micro-organisms. However, chronic bad habits, such as lack of exercise, continually eating foods that don’t provide any nutritional value, and chronic stress, can leave your immune system tired and weak.
As you age, your body can become frail and more prone to health issues. Research shows that the aging process leads to a reduction of immune response capability, which in turn contributes to more infections, more inflammatory diseases, and even cancer. As life expectancy in developed countries has increased, so too has the incidence of age-related conditions.
The first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle. The healthier you are, the healthier your immune system, and the better chance it has to fight illness.
Here are several tips on staying healthy in order to keep your immune system strong as you age.
Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and is bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as these, recommended by Harvard Medical Center:
- Don’t smoke.
- Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in saturated fat.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Control your blood pressure.
- If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
- Get regular medical screening tests for people in your age group and risk category.
There appears to be a connection between nutrition and immunity in seniors. A form of malnutrition called “micronutrient malnutrition” happens when a person is deficient in some essential vitamins and trace minerals that are obtained from or supplemented by diet. This can be common in seniors, even in developed countries.
There may be a vicious cycle at play, when seniors who suffer from depression, dental disorders or other age-related ailments begin an unhealthy eating pattern. Unhealthy eating can affect the immune system, leading to malnutrition and infections. A healthy diet includes:
- Low sodium and low sugar, including lessening your intake of white breads and white rice. Opt for multi- or whole-grain options instead.
- Vegetables of varying colors. The darker the greens, the more anti-oxidant rich they are. Vegetables that are red, yellow, and orange in color will give you the much needed bio-flavinoids and vitamin C. When it comes to fruits, go for whole fruits instead of fruit juices.
- More protein instead of fat. If you eat meat, ensure to eat plant protein as well. You can get your protein from red meat, fish, eggs, seeds, nuts, beans, and dairy. Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are also rich in calcium. Non-dairy sources of calcium include almonds, broccoli, kale, and tofu.
- Lots of water during the day, including fruits with higher water content such as melons. Eating more soup also counts! Water can help flush out the toxins and lower your chances of catching a cold or the flu by keeping mucous membranes moist. It is particularly important to drink more water when you consume alcohol or caffeine because those substances dehydrate the body.
One important question is whether dietary supplements may help older people maintain a healthier immune system. Be sure to discuss this question with a physician who is well versed in geriatric nutrition, because while some dietary supplementation may be beneficial for older people, even small changes can have serious repercussions.
Regular exercise improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. Exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. Exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous. Moderate exercise most days of the week can promote good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.
Choose a couple of exercises that you’re comfortable with and perform them daily. You could also go for short walks outside, or indoors when faced with inclement weather. For those with joint pains, or those who need to use a power chair or a wheelchair to get about, water aerobics can be great for reducing arthritis and other joint pain often felt when exercising by putting less stress and pressure on the joints.
Furthermore, be active socially. Having friends and acquaintances will have a positive impact on you psychologically and will help you develop a positive outlook on life. Why is this important? Because being happy can improve your immunity! Chronic stress and depression can produce stress hormones that can suppress your immune system over time. Staying social also has a plethora of other health benefits for seniors!
Sleep is a vital indicator of overall health and wellbeing. However, many adults fall into bad sleep patterns due to work, stress, stimulants, external noise and lights, and even sleep disorders. All of these can lead to acquiring less than the recommended hours of sleep a night, leading to sleep “debt.” Too little sleep, over time, can lead to a host of health problems, both physically and mentally.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) has completed new research and adjusted sleep recommendations for various age groups. While the research cannot pinpoint an exact amount of sleep needed by people at different ages, their new chart, which features minimum and maximum ranges for health as well as “recommended” windows, identifies the “rule-of-thumb” amounts experts agree upon, which is generally between 5 and 9 hours of sleep per night for seniors.
Nevertheless, it’s important to pay attention to your own individual needs by assessing how you feel on different amounts of sleep. Below are some questions to consider while you assess your sleep-health needs.
- Are you productive, healthy and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or does it take you nine hours of quality ZZZs to get you into high gear?
- Do you have health issues such as being overweight? Are you at risk for any disease?
- Are you experiencing sleep problems?
- Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day?
- Do you feel sleepy when driving?
Overall, it is important for seniors to keep their immune systems as strong as possible as they age to ward off unforeseen ailments and disease. At our senior living community, seniors can age in place with caring, professional staff, numerous amenities and activities, and assistance every step of the way. Ask to speak to our nutritionists or fitness center staff to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.
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