As we age, our immune system becomes less efficient, which is why we begin to succumb to more illnesses than we do when we’re young. This has become more apparent since the life expectancy in western countries has risen as we have seen more and more conditions related to old age and immune deficiencies. There are important immune system secrets to be aware of so that you can stay healthy while aging. Want to find out more? Keep reading.
Immune System and Age
While some people don’t see any noticeable differences as they age, studies have shown that, when compared to younger people, the elderly are at more risk of contracting conditions like influenza, pneumonia and other respiratory conditions. In fact, these are a leading cause of death in those over 65. While a fully agreed upon reason for this hasn’t been discovered, many scientists believe it is due to the decrease in T cells, which help to fight off infection. Some scientists are also looking into stem cells and how these affect the immune system as we age.
Scientists have also noticed that the elderly have a much lower success rate when vaccinated when compared to young children, as one example. One study on the influenza vaccine found that the vaccine was less effective in those over 65 when compared to healthy two-year old children. That said, despite the lower effectiveness, it is still recommended that the elderly receive their flu vaccines as, while it isn’t 100% effective in preventing the flu, it does still significantly lower the risk of infection.
Furthermore, some studies have also found a connection between immunity and diet in those over 65. A condition called micronutrient malnutrition is especially common in the elderly, even those in Western countries, and occurs when the diet is lacking certain vitamins and trace minerals that are most often received through a varied diet. Those who don’t eat a lot, or who eat only set meals, are advised to speak to a geriatric physician for advice regarding supplements that may be beneficial.
How Can the Elderly Increase Their Immunity?
There are a number of products that claim to be able to boost the immune system or support immunity. However, many of these make little sense from a scientific point of view. Those that claim to boost the number of cells in your body may do more harm than good. As an example of this, take a look at blood doping. This is something that athletes perform in order to enhance their performance; however, while there are short term benefits, blood doping comes with an increased risk of stroke.
Some products like beta glucans are a better option. You can view the benefits mentioned here if you’d like a little more detail, but to sum it up, these supplements work by stimulating the immune system to act. They trigger microphages (the white blood cells responsible for attacking bacteria and other harmful organisms) into action, which not only make the immune system respond much more quickly to disease, but also make it more efficient overall. Some beta glucans are better than others, though, so do make sure to buy them from an approved supplier.
In addition to supplements, there are a number of other things that contribute to a healthy immune system. Following a number of healthy living strategies can also make a big difference. These include:
- Minimizing stress
- Taking steps to reduce infection
- Getting at least eight hours of sleep each night
- Drinking alcohol in moderation (or not at all)
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly (even walking is enough)
- Eating a diet high in fruit and veg
- Quitting smoking
A Quick Look at Exercise
We mentioned exercise as one of the healthy living strategies, and want to place more importance on this. Many elderly people believe they are unable to exercise; however, as mentioned, even walking is enough to make a difference. Exercise has many other benefits too, including helping to control body weight, lowering blood pressure, improving circulation, and improving cardiovascular health. These are all things that directly contribute to how well your immune system works.
The elderly should be looking to complete around 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Physical activity involves anything that gets their heart pumping, and can include walking, riding a bike, playing tennis, performing water aerobics, or even just pushing a lawn mower around a garden. Daily chores aren’t included in the recommended 150 minutes, although they can help to break up the amount of sedentary time in the day. It is always wise to speak to a physician before beginning an activity program, especially if you are currently sedentary for much of the time.
Keeping your immune system healthy is important no matter how old you are; however, as we age it is something that we should pay more attention to. Let us know if the information in this post helped you in the comments.