19 Oct 10 Ways Philadelphia Seniors Can Boost Their Immune Systems
By taking care of yourself, your immune system can be ready to take care of you.
Each day, our immune system is working for us, like an army. It fights off dangerous organisms, bacteria, and viruses to keep us healthy. The coronavirus pandemic is highlighting the importance of staying safe and preventing illness. This is especially true for seniors and the most vulnerable populations at greater risk of complication or death.
While we can’t control everything in our environment, there are some simple things we can do to help those fighters do their job still better. The following are 10 preventive measures you can take to optimize your body’s defense against infection and illness.10
Make it a lifestyle
There is no one tip to boost your body’s ability to fight off germs. However, if you want more incentive to improve your overall well-being, then consider making long-term lifestyle changes. The healthiest immune systems reside in healthy bodies. Think of it from the big picture but make the changes small and they will be cumulative. This includes eating right and staying active to sleeping enough. The things that are most supportive of a good immune system are an overall healthy lifestyle.
Add good bacteria
Bacteria play an important role in our digestive systems. In our intestines, these organisms are called the gut microbiome. You may not notice they’re there until they are changed. Imbalances in the types of bacteria present due to an illness or a condition give us symptoms such as gas or diarrhea.
Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria present in the colon that assist in the production of disease-fighting white blood cells. They improve gut health and increase immune function. Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi are rich in probiotics. Beverages like kefir and kombucha are as well. Enjoy some daily with your lunch. Consider probiotic supplements, another option to ensure regular, daily intake.
Be less stressed
Stress can take many forms. The COVID-19 pandemic is surely mounting stress on all individuals, but particularly those at greatest risk. The body also perceives food intolerances and allergies as stressors on the body. This includes exposure to toxins and other environmental factors.
Whenever we are stressed out, no matter what the cause, we engage the sympathetic nervous system. This fight or flight response causes our body to release cortisol. The powerful anti-inflammatory has value to short-term survival. Cortisol release is what our bodies perceive to be necessary whenever we are stressed.
An excess in production of cortisol however, can leave our adrenals depleted and our bodies in a weakened state. Cortisol, the active stress hormone, clamps down on immune function (along with the digestive and reproductive systems) by shutting it down. This is to prioritize stress management and keep us alive and safe. Plus, cortisol lowers an important antibody called secretory IgA. This lines the respiratory tract and gut and is our first line of defense against invading pathogens.
Try incorporating stress management techniques to cope. Examples include deep breathing, meditation, calming baths, exercise, self-care practices and anything else that allows you to relax can all be helpful in mitigating the damaging effects of stress, especially on our immune system.
Get some shut eye
Make sure that you get whatever amount of sleep you need to feel refreshed in the morning, whether that’s 6 hours or 10. Insufficient sleep depresses the immune system, opening the door to upper-respiratory infections, colds, and other nagging sicknesses. Consider your caffeine intake, and don’t let it keep you from getting a good night’s sleep.
If you have a constricted airway that prevents you from sleeping deeply, consider breathing-aid strips on your nose which can be helpful. For those with insomnia, consider a cup of warm cow’s milk (this provides tryptophan, a relaxing amino acid). A magnesium drink can also quickly and gently ensure you get a good night’s sleep.
Consume Bone Broth.
Bone broth is filled with many key nutrients responsible for boosting your immune function and helpful in healing your gut. As previously mentioned, this is where a good majority of our immune system lives. Bone broth is rich in collagen, gelatin, and amino acids which tend to the gut. It improves wound healing and helps support the health of individual immune cells such as lymphocytes. Make your own at home using high-quality grass-fed bones to reap the full potential nutritional and healing benefits.
Wash your hands regularly
Washing your hands regularly may be basic, but it’s vitally important. It’s obviously critical during the coronavirus outbreak, but it should always be a part of a senior’s regular routine. Hand washing frequently helps reduce initial exposure to immune challenges. Just be sure to wash for 20-30 seconds with warm water and an antibacterial soap. Read more about proper hand washing technique and hand care for seniors here.
Drink the right fluids
Water should be your best friend. We often have heard that we should drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water per day. That can be hard to do, especially for seniors. Instead, try drinking a glass of water when you wake up to start your day off right. Your body is dehydrated from sleeping, so this is a great way to aid in that immediately. If you like warm drinks in the winter, try non-caffeinated teas, which you can include in your daily water tally.
Avoid excessive amounts of alcohol and drink in moderation. Too much alcohol can be detrimental to your immune system and acts to dehydrate you of essential fluids. Limit your caffeine intake as well. Water-storing fruits and vegetables can not only supply hydration but also important vitamins and minerals too.
Focus on increasing and maintaining levels of exercise activity. This doesn’t have to be at the gym or a fitness studio, which may not be accessible to seniors and can also be breeding grounds for germs. It could be a simple half hour walk every day. Exercising every day is vital for good health. It reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes and other diseases. As a bonus, it can improve your appearance and delay the aging process.
Seniors age 65 and older should get at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) each week. That averages out to about 25-30 minutes per day. Or, aim for 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise (like jogging) weekly.
Boost your nutrition
Consider a well-balanced and healthy diet to keep your immune system running at full speed. Vegetable oils, processed meat and foods, sugar, and alcohol are inflammatory foods that take the attention of the immune system. This can leave other problems in your body unaddressed. For this reason, removing inflammatory foods can contribute to a healthy immune system.
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables fuels the body with healthy antioxidants. Try to boost your intake of superfoods like kale, blueberries, spinach and citrus fruits. By eating a well-balanced diet, you’ll not only boost your immune system but you’ll feel better too.
Get your daily dose of vitamin C
Ensure you consume enough vitamin C, a potent vitamin in supporting a healthy immune response. Vitamin C accumulates in some immune cells that help promote our body’s defenses. Vitamin C foods, like citrus fruits and red bell peppers, improve the health of your immune system by providing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Studies display that getting enough vitamin C (plus zinc) in your diet may help to reduce the symptoms of respiratory infections. It can also shorten the duration of illnesses like the common cold and bronchitis.
Try to get vitamins through foods, but consider vitamin supplements as an alternative. Some of the best foods to add for a strong immune system include:
- citrus fruits, including orange, lemon and grapefruit
- black currant
- green and red bell pepper
In summary, the immune system is a collective network of organs, cells, and proteins that protect the body from viruses, bacteria, and foreign substances (including COVID-19). Unfortunately, most of us take our immune system for granted. We heighten our awareness of its function when it starts to fail in its ability to provide protection.
Seniors can protect themselves from the coronavirus or flu season by following the tips outlined here.
Adding in-home care support
Consider the role that home care agencies like Chosen Family can play for you or your loved one. You can count on well-trained and compassionate home health aides and caregivers to keep your senior loved one safe.
We partner closely with family and elders in need to foster a healthy environment at home and help families adequately prepare. In addition to helping seniors be prepared, we can monitor and promote healthy habits like adequate sleep and food and water intake. Find out more about the Chosen Family difference.