Ever since the coronavirus pandemic began and brought the idea of disease prevention to the front of our minds, many people have been wondering about what extra steps they can take to protect themselves. Though we have vaccines for the COVID-19 virus and for seasonal influenza, there are always extra measures and tools at our disposal. We learned during the pandemic that distancing, masking, and frequent hand washing and disinfection protocols can lower our risk of contracting diseases of any kind. But many of us are also wondering what we can do to boost the strength of our immune system and help our body’s natural line of defense. For seniors, this is a greater challenge due to the changes brought about from age.
The immune system is complex and pervasive in our bodies. There are numerous cells of different types that either circulate through the body, or reside wholly in a particular tissue. Each cell type plays a different role, with unique ways of recognizing problems, communicating with other cells and tissues, and performing their intended functions. Our lymphatic system, bone marrow, spleen, mucus tissues, and even our skin all play a part in recognizing and fighting off viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. Immune cells constantly circulate through the bloodstream, patrolling for problems.
If we get sick, of course medications, antibiotics, and antivirals can all help us out. But the better move is to avoid getting sick in the first place, by having a healthy and active immune system that fights off any incoming infections. You have no doubt seen advertisements for supplements or products that all claim to boost the power of the immune system, but the wide consensus by the experts is that such products are largely useless. Instead, the best way to charge up our immune systems is with lifestyle choices that promote health and immunity.
Vaccinations provide our immune systems with an early warning and a head start in protecting us against dangerous pathogens. Vaccines alert our immune systems to be on the lookout for specific germs, which allows our immune system to get to work immediately when we’re exposed to them.
Getting plenty of good-quality sleep, the seven or eight recommended hours, is crucial for the strength of our immune systems. Many studies have all shown that suffering from long-term sleep disorders can put us at higher risk of infections from diseases.
Exercise supports not only good overall health, but it improves circulation. This can help the immune system find and deal with pathogens in the short term. In the long term, exercise slows down the changes that happen to the immune system due to aging, which further reduces the risk of infections. Exercise also helps you to maintain a healthy weight, as obesity causes our immune system to respond dysfunctionally. Obesity causes a constant, low grade activation of some parts of the immune system, which could lead to a germ causing a hyper activation which is instead detrimental to fighting the infection. During the pandemic, we learned that obesity raises the risk of a severe case of COVID-19.