Thankfully, caring for your immune system isn't complicated. Many of the same lifestyle changes doctors recommend for good overall health are the best actions you can take to boost your immune system.
Using proper handwashing methods can help prevent up to 21% of colds and other respiratory illnesses. Seniors should aim for washing hands with soap for 20 seconds before eating and after using the bathroom or blowing their nose.
Another best practice is to avoid touching your face. The skin forms a natural barrier against germs; however, your eyes, nose and mouth provide entry points for illnesses. This is why it's important to remember not to rub your eyes and nose, especially if you've been around another person who's sick.
Following good hygiene practices also means being a good neighbor. By keeping your hands clean, you also help your friends in your senior living community, such as LifeStream at Youngtown, avoid germs and illnesses.
The body repairs itself as you sleep. Older adults generally need between 7 and 9 hours of quality sleep. However, pain, medications, caffeine and alcohol can make it difficult to have a restful night.
If you regularly have trouble sleeping, talk with your doctor to find what's disturbing your slumber. By fixing the problem at the source, you'll feel less fatigued during the day and enjoy your activities more.
There are several simple ways to improve sleep you can try at home, including:
Nutritional deficiencies prevent your body from operating normally and weaken your immune system. Aging can change how the body processes and absorbs nutrients. A doctor or dietitian can help seniors determine their personal dietary needs through testing and lifestyle considerations.
Minerals and vitamins that support immune health include iron, zinc and the lettered vitamins A, C, D and E. A diversified diet can help you get the nutrients you need.
Red meat, turkey, liver, spinach, beans, peas, quinoa and soybeans are some iron-packed foods that are easy to add to your diet.
Dairy, red meats, shellfish, legumes, whole grains, nuts and eggs are good sources of zinc.
Dairy, eggs, liver, carrots, sweet potatoes, collard greens and spinach are high in vitamin A.
Oranges, strawberries, cantaloupes, kiwis, mustard greens, guava, red bell peppers and broccoli are good choices for seniors looking to increase their vitamin C intake.
The body makes most of the vitamin D we need when it's exposed to sunlight, which seniors can enjoy in abundance here in our Youngtown, Arizona, community. There are some fortified foods and fish that contain vitamin D as well.
Cooking oils, seeds and nuts provide some of the highest amounts of vitamin E, although it's common in many foods, including mangos, avocados and red peppers.
Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke have a negative impact on nearly every organ in the body, including those that regulate the immune system. Smokers have higher rates of illnesses, infections and hospitalizations than their nonsmoking peers.
Stopping smoking offers many short-term and long-term benefits. Health professionals say within 2 to 12 weeks of quitting, smokers show improvement in several areas, including:
Smokers attempting to quit often experience side effects. Although temporary, these can be severe. Your doctor can help you find medications and resources to reduce symptoms and make it easier to quit.
Your immune system doesn't simply fight infections — it studies them. When your body defeats a germ, it records information about the best ways to fight it. If you're exposed to the same illness again, your body uses the collected information to beat the illness more easily.
Vaccines work by introducing your body to illnesses before you catch them. This allows your immune system to build up defenses and prepare for the real thing. Some vaccines last a lifetime, but others need to be retaken to restore their effectiveness.
It's recommended that older adults check with their doctors to determine if they missed any vaccines as children and establish a vaccine schedule for boosters and seasonal flu shots.
Talking with your doctor about your family medical history and lifestyle can help you discover more ways to improve your immune system. Many factors, including certain medications and autoimmune diseases, can hinder your immune system. Your doctor can help you identify key problems and create care plans tailored to your body's needs.