Tips for Healthy Immune System
Flu season typically lasts from October through May in the U.S. and affects people of all genders, age groups, and walks of life each year. This year, flu season is especially dangerous considering the current state of the world the Coronavirus has brought on. The average flu symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fever, body aches, headaches, and chills can be even more dangerous in today’s climate.
Last year, or years prior, the flu might not have caused serious health concerns for some, but today any minor health complication could prove to be extremely dangerous which makes flu season all the more serious for those sixty-five and older. The reason being primarily because older adults tend to have a weaker immune system.
This doesn’t mean that older adults have to put their entire lives on pause and hide away in a dark room until the world begins to shift back into its previous climate. Of course we should all be following guidelines for social distancing and other safe practices (wear a mask!) to ensure the safety of ourselves and the people around us, but hiding away and avoiding anyone and everyone we might come into contact with may not be necessary. All this means is that older adults may want to take a few extra steps to strengthen their immune systems in order to better protect themselves from the flu and complications that come along with it.
The first step, and one that everyone should take, is to get the flu vaccination. An annual flu shot can reduce the risk of infection by forty to fifty percent and is available at pretty much any clinic, target, CVS, Walgreens or any other place with a pharmacy. It’s also free with most health insurances or very reasonably priced if you’re not covered. The vaccine works by stimulating your immune system to create antibodies to help fight and protect you against the infection and can take around two weeks to be fully effective. The shot might be slightly uncomfortable if you’re not fond of needles, but it’s virtually painless and worth getting.
Secondly, it’s extremely beneficial to stay active and eat a healthy diet. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and limiting sugars, fats and processed foods is a great way to boost your immune system and make sure it's in shape to fight off viruses. As far as exercise goes, while more strenuous activity may be more difficult with age, it doesn’t mean you need to stop moving completely. There are plenty of things to do at home either by yourself or with friends to help keep your body mobile and in tip-top fighting shape. The goal is to squeeze in thirty minutes at least three times a week through simple, low impact workouts such as walking or yoga. Chair yoga, as mentioned in a previous blog post, is growing in popularity amongst older adults.
Another smart practice? Limiting stress and getting plenty of sleep. Limiting stress these days can be a little more difficult, but it’s important to do so. Stress can have a huge impact on your immune system and decrease its effectiveness. While short term stressors may not have an extreme effect on the body, chronic or long term stress can compromise your immune system and make you more susceptible to illness. Best practice would be to reduce stress and, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, engage in activities that encourage relaxation such as reading or gardening or any other hobby you enjoy. As far as resting goes, lack of sleep affects the body in the same way that stress does. As we get older, sleep becomes even more important in terms of maintaining and improving brain function, concentration and memory. It’s smart to try to get at least 7 ½ to 9 hours of sleep each night. Try to sleep in a cool, dark environment and avoid napping for more than forty-five minutes during the day. Getting plenty of sleep and avoiding stress can be a real game changer.
The main thing to takeaway is that the flu, especially right now during a pandemic, is something we all need to be proactive about. Especially those who are 65 and older. We don’t need to allow it, or the coronavirus, to rule our lives, but we should make the effort to take a few extra steps to strengthen our immune systems and avoid getting sick. These tips won’t only help you when it comes to preventing illness, but you’ll ultimately feel a lot happier, healthier, and more energized as well!