How to boost your immunity if you’re over 60

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In the face of all the concern over the coronavirus or COVID-19, what steps can the 60+ woman take to boost our immunity? Can we change or adapt our lifestyle to fortify our immune response?

For years researchers have been exploring the impact of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, and other factors on our immune system. Here are some healthy living strategies that have come out of their findings. While nothing can guarantee good health, these lifestyle practices are a solid place to start and to incorporate into our lives, pandemic or not.

Eat a healthy diet

While there’s no one diet that enhances immunity, research shows that a varied diet full of vitamin- and mineral-rich foods (like fresh vegetables and fruit) helps the body— including our immune system—function at its best. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables can be major step in developing a healthy diet and boosting antioxidant levels. Think the rainbow, eat the rainbow.

For seniors, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a protein-rich diet that emphasizes vitamins A, B, C, and E, as well as zinc, folate, selenium, and prebiotics and probiotics to help protect our immune system.

This list of 20 foods rich in protein on is a good place to start (Brussels sprouts? Who knew?). Check out this article on Blue Hare for high protein breakfast ideas.

Exercise regularly

Physical activity helps boost the production of immune system cells and lower inflammation in our bodies, according to a review of research on exercise and immunity published in Biogerontology. The researchers note that individuals who have been moderately active throughout their lives enjoy the most benefits.

The CDC recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week—30 minutes a day for five days—and two sessions a week of muscle-strengthening activities, such as lifting weights.

At a minimum. The CDC advocates that we ‘move more, sit less.’ An alternative to consider when you want to avoid the gym and other communal places is to head outdoors and do some ‘forest bathing,’ an activity that has been demonstrated to enhance the body’s natural killer (NK) cells.

Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight puts our bodies at greater risk in many ways, including a weakened immune system. Abdominal fat triggers inflammation and boosts our risk of heart disease and diabetes. With age, fat can also build up in our bone marrow, muscle, and liver to increase inflammation. Studies show that even small amounts of weight loss can have a positive effect on reducing inflammation.

Manage stress

Numerous health conditions—upset stomach, hives, and high blood pressure, to name a few—have been linked to the effects of stress in our lives. There are chronic stressors—money problems, caring for an elderly parent, relationship concerns—and acute stressors such as being diagnosed with a serious illness or getting into a car accident. It’s the chronic or ongoing stress that we must manage to protect our immune system.

Ongoing stress makes us susceptible to illness and disease because the brain sends defense signals to the endocrine system, which then releases hormones that prepare us for emergency situations while significantly depressing our immunity at the same time.

When under stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond to hormonal control, and consequently, produce levels of inflammation that promote disease. When they’re exposed to a virus, they’re more likely to succumb to disease.

Some experts claim that stress is responsible for as much as 90% of all illnesses and diseases, including cancer and heart disease.

Stress can have an indirect negative influence on the immune system as well, as some individuals will rely on unhealthy activities such as smoking and drinking to help them cope.

Positive approaches to help manage stress include relaxation exercises such as meditation and guided imagery, doing yoga, taking a walk out in nature or simply walking the dog. Adopting a positive perspective can help as well. Lastly, research confirms that individuals with strong social support networks have better overall health and are more resistant to infection and disease.

Don’t smoke

Speaking of, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t smoke. If you do smoke, quit. While easier said than done, this is the single greatest, avoidable negative influence on the immune system.

If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation

In the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. This definition refers to the amount of alcohol consumed per day. It doesn’t mean that we can ”save up” and drink seven glasses of wine in one sitting.

If you don’t drink, don’t start now. Not only does drinking too much limit immunity-boosting nutrients in your body, it also lowers your white blood cell’s ability to kill germs. Drinking also boosts the risk of infection. While excessive drinking is detrimental, moderate consumption of red wine is consistent with the anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet.

Get a good night’s sleep

People who don’t sleep well appear to have more inflammation, which suggests their immune system is working overtime.

During sleep, the immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you’re under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep.

Our bodies need sleep to fight infectious diseases. In addition, not getting enough sleep over time also increases our risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart and cardiovascular disease.

If you have trouble sleeping try one of the sleep aid products available on the market, like weighted blankets and eye pillows.

Stay on top of your vaccinations

With age, our ability to build up our immunity is lessened. Our lower immune response makes us more likely to contract infectious diseases as we get older and more likely to die from them.

Respiratory infections, influenza, and pneumonia are leading causes of death in people over 65 worldwide. Vaccinations for influenza and S. pneumoniae have significantly lowered the rates of sickness and death in older people when compared with no vaccination. There is no vaccine for the coronavirus yet, but public health officials are pushing for one by the end of the year.

Avoid touching public surfaces

Public surfaces are frighteningly dirty. Subways, airplanes, buses. The list goes on. Beware of any surface other hands have touched. When opening and closing doors, try to use a sleeve or a paper towel. Anything you can do to avoid sharing surfaces with other people’s hands will help stave off illness.

Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated can boost your immune health as water helps your body produce the lymphatic fluid that flows through the body to collect and get rid of bacteria and waste.

Water pushes bodily waste into the lymph nodes where lymphocytes destroy them, keeping them from impairing immune function and causing life-threatening conditions. Water also promotes adaptive immune response by working to get rid of toxic foreign invaders through the kidneys. It prevents toxin build-up which also boosts immune function.

How much water do we need to drink each day? According to The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, women should drink about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day; men should drink about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day. Remember that about 20 percent of our daily fluid intake usually comes from food.

If you don’t like to drink plain water we have some healthy alternatives in this article on Blue Hare.

Consider supplements

Vitamins and supplements can help remedy vitamin deficiencies if you’re not getting enough through your diet. Some vitamins linked to an enhanced immune system include Vitamin C, B6, E, and zinc. Ask your physician or consult a dietician on an approach for supplements that is right for you.

Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient found in some foods. Citrus fruits, tomatoes and tomato juice, and potatoes are major sources of vitamin C in our diet. Other good food sources include red and green peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, and cantaloupe.  In the body, Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals. It also helps the immune system work properly to protect against disease. The recommended daily intake for vitamin C is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men.

Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals. It is found in foods like vegetable oils and shortening, meat, eggs, milk, and leafy vegetables. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin E for a female 14 years of age and older is 15 mg or 22.4 IU. Our bodies also need vitamin E to boost our immune system so that it can fight off invading bacteria and viruses.

Zinc is an essential mineral found in cells throughout the body. It also helps our immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses. A wide variety of foods contain zinc. Oysters overwhelmingly contain more zinc per serving than any other food. Red meat and poultry are reliable sources as well. Other good food sources include beans, nuts, certain types of seafood (such as crab and lobster), whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of zinc for adult women is 8 mg.

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