As we get older, it can be more challenging to keep our immune system in good shape—just when we need it to fight off illnesses that could affect us more than when we were younger. Of course, if we get sick, medicine can help us. But would it be better to avoid getting sick in the first place? That’s where the immune system comes in!
It’s not called a system for nothing! Many parts of our bodies come together to play defense when it comes to germs and viruses. Our lymphatic system, bone marrow, spleen, mucosal tissue, and even our skin all play a part in recognizing and fighting off viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens.
This system, while robust, is not infallible. Everybody gets sick sometimes. So what can we do to give our immune system the best chance of fighting off illnesses? Is it vitamins and supplements? We hear advertisements for the next, new super-food smoothie or “immune support” vitamins. Unfortunately, experts say those are largely useless. Instead, we can make lifestyle choices that promote immunity.
How to Boost Your Immune System:
Exercise supports overall good health, as well as improves circulation. Regular exercise slows down changes that happen to the immune system with aging, which reduces your chance of infection.
Good-quality sleep, in the right amount (between seven and nine hours for most of us), is important for a healthy immune system. Several studies show that long-term sleep disorders increase our risk for infectious diseases.
It is best to take in the nutrients we need from the foods we eat rather than supplements or vitamins. Many such products are not helpful. And be mindful of your salt intake! Researchers from Bonn University in Germany say that people who eat a lot of salt—most notably from fast foods—are more likely to suffer from severe infections.
Control Your Stress
Stress raises the level of the hormone cortisol, which can interfere with our immune response and raise the risk of infections. It has been a stressful few years! Worrying about our financial situation, caring for an older or ill loved one, and social isolation are just a few of the stressors we face right now. Talk to your doctor if you feel your stress is unmanageable. Stress management techniques and counseling can help.
Get Your Shots
Vaccines provide our immune system with a warning and a head start in protecting us against dangerous germs. A vaccine alerts our immune system to be on the lookout for a certain germ. It’s directions for your immune system that say “Watch out for this. If you see it, here’s how to take it down.” Then, if we’re exposed to the germ, our immune system can jump right into action, giving the germ less chance to take hold.
Talk to your doctor about all the lifestyle choices that might affect your immune system. It’s good to know that all of these changes can improve your health in many other ways, as well.