As we age, our immune systems can weaken. This makes us more susceptible to everything from the common cold to strep throat, to heart disease and cancer.
This decrease in immunity is caused by a few factors. Firstly, the body produces fewer immune cells as it gets older. This slows down not only our ability to fight off infections, but for the body to heal itself.
Not only do the number of immune cells decrease, the cells that are produced do not communicate and react as quickly, making it more difficult for the body to fend off germs and free radicals.
So, how can we combat the “immunity issue” as we age?
Keeping blood sugar under control is a huge way to improve immune strength. Think about it – if your body is less occupied by trying to keep your blood sugar at safe levels, it has more resources available to fight other things. Not only that, but by managing diabetes, you reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease, keeping the body healthier over time.
A restful night’s sleep does wonders for the immune system (and for your sanity!) Aim for 7-9 hours every night.
Speaking of rest, that includes resting the spirit every once in a while. By practicing relaxation techniques like yoga, prayer, or mediation we can lower the toll on our minds and bodies.
Moderate exercise also helps to keep the immune system stronger. Even if it’s a walk around the neighborhood after dinner, every little bit helps.
Smoking devastates the body as a whole, but especially the immune system. If you smoke – quit; if you don’t smoke – don’t start!
If someone in your group of friends or family is sick, stay away. It can be difficult, especially if you are the caregiver for that person. If you must be physically close to someone who is ill, be sure to wear a mask, do not share food or drinks, and keep your surroundings sanitized. (This is as much for their immune protection as it is for yours!)
A diet of whole, clean foods with plenty of protein, healthy fats, and fiber is essential for good health and good immunity. There are a few foods in particular that help give your immune system an even bigger boost:
You’ve probably heard that Vitamin C can help prevent or shorten a cold. It also helps your immune system work well even when you aren’t sick. Vitamin C increases the number of white blood cells in the bloodstream, thereby fighting infection and other free radicals in the body helping to keep you well. Popular citrus fruits include: lemons, limes and grapefruits. The human body does not produce its own Vitamin C, so enjoy a little every day to help prevent illness.
It’s true- that bowl of mom’s chicken noodle soup really does help you feel better! The amino acid cysteine released by cooking the chicken, shares a chemical resemblance with certain cold and bronchitis medications. The soup’s broth helps to thin mucus, thereby alleviating sinus pressure and chest congestion. Chicken soup isn’t just for the soul, but for the immune system too!
Garlic packs a serious immune-boosting punch. In one study, 146 people received either a placebo or a garlic extract supplement for 12 weeks; those individuals who were given the garlic were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold.
Used for thousands of years in traditional Asian medicine, mushrooms are one the most beneficial foods for the immune system, and body as a whole. These natural disease-fighters increase white blood cell production and performance, helping to defend against infection. Some mushrooms also contain antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that fight bacteria like strep and staph.
The skin is often forgotten as a part of the body’s immune system. It is literally your body’s first line of defense against the outside world. Vitamin A is crucial for the health and well-being of your skin. Sweet potatoes are a great source of Vitamin A. Other orange foods like carrots, pumpkin and cantaloupe are also high in this beneficial vitamin.
Ah, the wonders of probiotics. An astounding 80% of the body’s immune system is located in the gut. Probiotics can help you fend off all sorts of illnesses, from the common cold to the flu. You can take a daily probiotic supplement, our get them by eating fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and kimchi.
The immunity odds are stacked against us as we age, but with the right tools, we can stay healthier, and happier, longer!