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How to improve the immune system in elderly

Many of the illnesses, aches, and pains associated with old age, can be traced back to a number of causes. Obviously, we’re not talking about serious illnesses such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, cancer or strokes. Although there is growing evidence to suggest that these diseases and others can be resisted by living a healthy and stress-free life.

Many of the niggly illnesses that people suffer from in their advancing years can be seriously reduced by following simple rules and practices. In this article, we’ll talk about some of the commonest factors that cause problems with your immune system.

What’s the immune system?

Everybody should know what our immune system does. However, you can’t point to a certain place in your body and say “Here is my immune system”. It doesn’t work like that.

Many parts of your body and many external factors all combine to ensure your body can fight off diseases. Basically, it’s about giving your body all the nutrients, rest and exercise it needs to keep in tip-top condition. It can then fight off diseases much easier using its own resources. As we said earlier, keeping your body healthy may not prevent serious illness, but it’ll go a long way to keeping you as healthy as possible.

Vaccinations

Get a flu vaccination every year. Your doctor, pharmacist or local clinic will be able to tell you when’s the best time and will be able to organize it for you too. Every year influenza takes its toll on many elderly citizens and if left unchecked can in the worst case cause the senior to be hospitalized or even death. Vaccination helps your body produce antibodies that then fight off the infection.

By the way, don’t confuse the flu with the common cold. If you’re not sure, seek medical advice. In general, a cold is far less severe than flu, but both illnesses can lead to secondary infections such as bronchitis. Flu, however, can lead to pneumonia or meningitis so ask about these vaccines too. Remember that the flu virus continually mutates so you’ll need a fresh one every year. 

Eat a balanced diet

To have a good immune system your body needs all the nutrients necessary to keep itself healthy. Remember it’s your immune system that fights off viruses and bacteria so keeping it fed with the right stuff is important.  

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables containing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, together with protein foods like eggs, fish, lean meat and dairy. Don’t forget to increase your fluid intake too. Any fluid will count (except alcohol).

So, soup, tea, juices, coffee, any protein drink, and water are all good. You’ll have to reduce other food groups too. Eat less sugar, fats and processed foods. Keep a record of what you eat and ask your doctor if you should take dietary supplements such as multivitamins. Eating healthily will also make sure you keep your weight down too. Being overweight puts a strain onto your body which will adversely affect your immune system.

Exercise

No, I don’t mean work out in a gym, as strenuous activity becomes very difficult as you get older. This doesn’t mean you should stop moving, however. Low impact exercises such as cycling, walking, gardening, swimming or yoga are all gentle workouts and will help keep you fit. You don’t have to do hours on end every day either. Just 30 minutes, every other day will be enough. Or if you can’t manage that, just do what you can. Remember, increased exercise will stimulate blood flow through the body and help strengthen your immune system.

Reduce stress

Stress isn’t just a psychological problem. When the body or the mind experiences stress, the body produces more cortisol to help deal with the situation. It also turns off non-essential bodily functions so your body can concentrate on the ‘fight or flight’ reflex. Short term stress never did any harm and in fact, can be beneficial. It’s when the stress continues unabated that problems start. Chronic stress and the chemicals naturally secreted will lower the immune system’s response to outside attackers, making you more susceptible to illness.

Reduce your stress level by managing your limitations and learn to say no. Relax, with activities such as reading, painting, and gardening. Remember that some exercises are relaxing too. A gentle stroll in the park, Tai Chi or messing about in the swimming pool combine relaxation and exercise in one.

Don’t stay up too late

Never underestimate the effect of sleep on your immune system. To operate properly, your body functions also need plenty of rest, preferably sleep. As you grow older, sleep becomes more important than it did a few years ago. You need help to improve brain function, memory, and concentration. Sleep will do all this and more.

Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night, and keep a regular bedtime. Ensure your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool. By all means, have naps during the daytime but limit these to less than 1 hour. Don’t drink coffee later on in the day and don’t drink anything within about 2 hours of bedtime otherwise, you’ll be up in the night visiting the bathroom.

If you have any problems maintaining a good bedtime routine, speak to your doctor to identify the cause.

Less partying, please!

Although you’ll want to enjoy life to the full, cut down on the alcohol and give up smoking. Neither of these substances is good for your body and can cause many serious diseases. Smoking affects your lungs, heart and blood flow, while booze affects your liver, kidneys and digestive system.

They actually cause far more damage but this will do for now. If you’re having problems quitting smoking get some nicotine gum or patches to wean yourself off. If you still have problems, speak to your doctor.

Get outside more

Although this should be mentioned along with more exercise and relaxation, I think it’s important enough to warrant its own section. Sunshine produces vitamin D in your skin which directly strengthens your immune system. The amount of vitamin D your body needs will depend on many factors. Some people only need about 15 minutes while others need a few hours.

By sun exposure I don’t mean sunbathing or going out in the hot sun, as this can cause even more problems with skin cancer. Go outside when the sun isn’t too strong and you should be able to get all the vitamin D you need. Combine this with exercises like walking or cycling, and relaxation like gardening and you’ll really be using your time efficiently.

If you have problems getting outside speak to your doctor about vitamin D supplements.

To finish

Even though at first sight, you probably didn’t realize you could do much to improve your immune system, you now know there’s plenty of things you can do.  Often the changes in your lifestyle cost very little and sometimes nothing at all.

But, these changes will boost your immune system and protect you from common illnesses. Although this lifestyle change might mean a bit of self-discipline, it will pay you back ten times if you can stick at it.

Try to live healthily and the chances are that you’ll be healthy for many years to come.

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