5 Ways to Strengthen Senior Immunity During The Cold Months

October 13, 2015
Seniors embracing: 5 ways to strengthen immunity

Image from www.plus.google.com

The way the immune system works is still shrouded in mystery, but most scientists agree that there is a link between our lifestyles and our immune system’s capacity to protect us from disease-causing microorganisms. Medically speaking, the elderly are more prone to illness than young adults because the cells that fight infection, called T lymphocytes, develop shorter lifespans as we age. By the same token, seniors also take a longer time to heal than younger adults, and are more susceptible to secondary complications, making the elderly one of the biggest at-risk groups during the cold season.  

The winter months, with their short daylight hours and low temperatures forcing people indoors, pose a special threat to our immune system. During this period, seniors run a higher risk of catching viral and microbial infections.

Although immune system boosters for seniors still remain largely unproven, there is a consensus that certain healthy-living rules help our immune system keep certain pesky pathogens at bay. Read on to see a breakdown of five top well-being tips to boost senior immunity.

Sleep

Our daily clock is at the heart of how our body works. It stimulates the activation of certain genes, drives the ebb and flow of our metabolism and dictates our cognitive performance. In medical terms, fatigue increases the amount of cortisol in the body, a hormone which indirectly leads to muscle loss and protein depletion. Sleep scientists have recently discovered that there is a link between lack of sleep and certain health issues, such as immunodeficiency, weight gain, depression and reduced fertility. Getting at least seven and a half hours of rest per day is a great way to boost senior immunity during the winter months.

Ways to strengthen senior immunity: elderly man sleeping

Image by Leonardo Alloca (Flickr)

When it comes to getting proper, body-replenishing shut eye, every little variable counts. From the type of mattress you sleep on, to light and temperature conditions, to sound exposure and air quality, every variable has a big impact on what specialists call the individual “sleep environment.” Sleep coaches advise their patients to stay off the phone and other sensory-stimulating devices at bedtime, take a shower prior to going to bed, install blackout curtains in their bedrooms, and drink a glass of warm milk before packing in for the night; yes, the tryptophan in milk triggers the production of sleep-inducing chemicals such as serotonin and melatonin, which makes it a great non-alcoholic nightcap.

Try to stay off sugar-rich drinks, caffeinated coffee and fatty foods prior to going to bed, as these will all put you off your sleep by either increasing alertness or raising internal body temperature.

Whether you’re a morning lark or a night owl, monitoring your own circadian rhythm or chronotype is key to creating effective strategies to ensure you get all the rest you need. Ideally, our body clock should match the natural daylight cycle as close as possible, which means night owls are recommended to wake up early, and then take a compensatory nap in the afternoon if necessary.

Nutrition and Hydration

As the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates once said, “you are what you eat.” According to this study by Aplaceformom, seniors tend both to eat less and to eat a smaller variety of foods than their younger counterparts, leading to vitamin and mineral deficiencies (or micronutrient malnutrition) that have been linked with reduced immunity. One of the easiest and most effective ways to boost senior immunity (and your lymphocyte count) is by eating a balanced diet. Make sure your vitamin and mineral intake is up to par by selecting a range of different leafy vegetables and bright-colored fruit at every meal. Vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and carrots provide high quantities of much-needed fiber required by the liver to filter out toxins, while chicken and other low-fat meats provide high levels of proteins needed to sustain normal B cell lymphocyte production levels.

Chicken dish: immune system boosters for seniors

Image by Larry (Flickr)

Make sure you’re also consuming the required levels of vitamin A, B2, B6, C, D and E. Vitamin C is one of the best immune system booster for seniors, and is found in all types of delicious fruit and vegetables, such as strawberries, broccoli, lemons and grapefruit. Selenium, a micronutrient commonly found in seafood such as oysters and tuna, plays a significant role in the production of cytokines, molecules that aid communication among immune cells. Zinc indirectly aids the proliferation of T helper cells, and is commonly found in beef and shellfish, and is artificially added to cereals and other foods. Lastly, make sure you eat a healthy mix of leafy vegetables, squash and sweet potatoes, all foods that are rich in beta carotene, a micronutrient that plays a big role in T cell lymphocyte production.

Leafy greens boost senior immune system

Image by U.S. Department of Agriculture (Flickr)

In some cases, reduced appetite among seniors can be tackled by taking appetite stimulators, or else by improving micronutrient density (the amount of minerals and vitamins present in your meals) through choice selection of foods. Studies have proven that potent antioxidants in mushrooms aid immune cell production. You may also consider taking natural health supplements such as probiotic yogurts, ginseng or turmeric spice, all of which have soothing and stress-relieving properties. Remember to soak up as much sunshine as you can over the winter months, as research has shown that vitamin D production, one of the key immune system boosters for seniors, is linked to exposure to sunlight.

Drinking adequate amounts of water is another key way to ensure your body remains in optimum shape throughout the winter. By drinking plenty of water, you’ll help your body flush out the toxins that would otherwise cause drops in your lymphocyte levels. If water is not your favourite drink, you can always opt for fresh fruit juices or herbal infusions such as green tea. The later is jam-packed with catechins, a compound associated with the functioning of lymphocytes, and L-Theanine, an amino acid that supports the immune system, making it a great winter option.

Green tea: boost senior immunity

Image by Frans Schouwenberg (Flickr)

 Vaccination

As this study shows, vaccinations for influenza and pneumonia-causing germs significantly lowered the risk of death among seniors, making seasonal flu shots are absolute musts for senior citizens and other immune-depressed patients. With flu season usually running between October and March, flu vaccination is considered the single most effective prevention method and a great way to boost senior immunity. According to one study, at least 70-90% of vaccinated patients displayed immunity against seasonal flu strains, making it one of the best non-dietary or lifestyle-based immune system boosters for seniors.

Senior vaccination

Image from www.newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org

Seniors living in nursing homes and crowded living facilities are especially at risk of developing viral diseases. With no cure against the flu currently in existence, the emphasis among medical caregivers is firmly placed on prevention. That means washing hands frequently, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and steering clear of sick people.

Laughter and Stress Management

Modern medicine has slowly come to recognize the complex interconnection between mind and body. In recent times, researchers have shown an increased interest in the way emotion and psychological well being affects how our body’s immune system responds to and copes with foreign pathogens.

While solid scientific evidence is yet relatively scarce, scientists agree that ongoing or chronic stress contributes to the likelihood of developing immune-linked diseases. When besieged by stress, we produce fewer lymphocytes and the T cells in our body are less active. In long-term stress conditions, our body produces glucocorticoids, a hormone which inhibits the production of immune-boosting cytokines and interleukins.

Image by SiDwims (Flickr)

Image by SiDwims (Flickr)

One of the best ways to boost senior immunity is to reduce stress levels to a minimum. Laughter has been shown to trigger the production of endorphins, neurotransmitters that play a key role in reducing pain and stimulating hormone production. Laughter is also thought to improve oxygenation of body tissues.

Top stress-relieving tips include breathing deeply, focusing on only one attention-requiring task at a time and mental body scanning. Placing a warm compress over the eyes will induce relaxation while certain genres of music have been shown to possess a calming effect, lowering blood pressure and heart-rate. Make sure you have a healthy mix of relaxing tunes at hand during the winter months.

Exercise

Getting exercise is a key way to boost the senior immune system. Any form of physical exercise, including going out for a stroll and stretching, helps the body release a potent mix of immune-boosting endorphins. Simple decisions like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking to the grocery store, can improve cardiovascular strength and make a big difference to the way your body responds to immune attacks during the winter months. Increased aerobic strength creates improved conditions for immune cells and promotes effectivity.

Seniors stretching: boost senior immunity

Image from www.phoenixlasermdi.com

Self-massage using foam rollers has been shown to simultaneously release muscle tension and stimulate blood circulation, making it a deeply satisfying way to boost senior immunity. Moderate amounts of low-impact physical activity such as walking, yoga or tai chi improve general well being as well as reducing stress and fatigue. Remember to re-hydrate after exercising.

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