The Ageless Wisdom Of Being Immune
- 5-7 Mins Read
- Written by: Dr. Pramod Mane
- As you age, you are more prone to diseases as your immune system weakens.
- The environment also has an effect as do some lifestyle choices we make.
- ·Health tips to keep your immunity in top shape as you age.
- Why eating right, adequate hydration and exercising are key to immunity.
Does aging, old age lead to weaker immunity?
We’ve often heard that the aging process leads to lower immunity, leaving you prone to many of those scary diseases and infections. Given the ever-changing environment, pollution and some unavoidable lifestyle choices, it has become more important to keep ourselves fit and maintain the rigor of our immunity.
How does the aging process make our immune system go off the chain?
It’s not that aging makes you weak; rather the process diminishes the function of some important cells which keep your immune system working robustly. These are called B and T cells, which grow in the bone marrow of our body. The bone marrow is a spongy substance found in the centre of our bones which houses these cells and aids their migration to the spleen where these grow further and keep us immune.
But as we grow older, this migration is hindered due to some genetic factors, reduced growth and increased wear and tear, ultimately resulting in the death of these cells. This process lowers the strength of our body to fight infections and diseases. In addition, the quality and chemical construct of the cells deteriorates, resulting in weaker immunity.
Some environmental and lifestyle factors also weaken our immune system, making it prone to infections progressively as we age. For e.g:
- Increased exposure to vehicular smoke, dust and other forms of air pollution.
- Lazy food choices and lack of activity also lead to weaker health. For e.g. a fast-food diet (burgers, fries, pizza etc.), not including enough vegetables and fruits, smoking, tobacco, lack of quality sleep.
These together or individually contribute to the weakening of our immune system and that’s how we age faster.
Is there a way to control age-induced weakening of immunity?
Is there a way or some ancient wisdom to counter this and stay young and fit? Realistically, we’re not the wolverine who just heals faster, but there some effective ways to maintain the health of the elderly and those on their way there.
Can you guess some strategies to counter these? If that smart brain of yours is thinking of ways to increase the healthy production of the B and T cells discussed above and modifying the diet, you’re on the right track!
Health tips for all ages (The Ten Commandments!)
The following tips are not just strictly for the elderly, but all those too who are soon-to-be old:
1. Keep clean and shine on!
As we grow old, our body gets vulnerable to dirt and germs which makes it difficult to fight it. Hence, following proper hygiene: e.g washing hands thoroughly and often can help prevent the spread of disease-causing germs from one person to another.
Remember soaping and scrubbing for at least 20 seconds before rinsing with water? That works. Washing your hands before meals, after using the toilet, post caring for someone ill, and after coughing or sneezing helps a lot.
2. Get that vaccine shot
The single best way to help the body fight infections and diseases is to get vaccinated against those. Eg., seasonal flu vaccines and also the recent coronavirus. This is because, the complications of such viruses include hospitalization and death, especially in older age groups. So, make sure you get your vaccination on time in order to stay active and age gracefully like Morgan Freeman.
3. Eating your veggies and well-balanced meals
A healthy diet is essential for a strong immune system. A well-balanced diet including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and a variety of protein foods keeps a check on those deadly infections. Include the following foods in your diet in order to stay healthy:
- Vitamin (A,C, and E) -rich diet such as sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, citrus foods, strawberries, certain cereals and nut butters like almond, hazelnut, and peanut butter.
- Zinc-rich food, such as lean meats, poultry, milk, beans and whole grain products.
- Protein-rich food, such as poultry, eggs, beans, peas, seafood and lean meats.
Read more about food, gut health and immune system in “How does boosting your immune system improve the overall health?
4. Keep the body active
Regular physical activity can help older people stay strong, independent, and healthy. Keep that knee pain and other joint pains away with a good balance of exercise. Start with a short 10-30-minute walk in your nearby park and also stretch out your muscles with the help of a professional trainer.
A study suggests that clapping hands along with music improves the blood flow in the body and improves heart health. But always wear some protective gear during exercise, such as knee caps (or helmets, if you like cycling). As we age, our bones become fragile, so make sure you are protected. Also consult a doctor before starting to exercise.
5. Stop stressing
Relaxing activities such as meditation or deep breathing exercises calms you down and has positive effects on your health. Take a break from the ‘idiot box’ to indulge in some fun brain games such as Sudoku or crossword puzzles. Reading, writing, and storytelling also keeps your mind energized and active.
6. Connect with others
Senior citizens often find themselves isolated, leading to feelings of loneliness and depression. This can compromise immune health. It’s important to stay connected, so keep yourselves occupied by interacting with your family members.
If you have grandchildren, play with them, help them with their homework, connect with your old friends, or join a senior community. Take help from your family and join a volunteer group or take on a new hobby.
Plan a visit to a holiday spot or a place you want to visit. Also, make sure to call, text, or use some video technology, such as Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom to stay in touch with your loved ones while ensuring safety.
7. Get a good night’s sleep or anytime sleep!
It’s really important to have a good sleep of at least 7-9 hours, because insufficient sleep may impact your health negatively. Yes, you may feel energized throughout the day like a budding youngster, but keep in mind that your aging body needs that sleep to help the body and immune system stay active for a longer period.
8. Drink up (water, not the one you were thinking)
Adequate hydration is a key immune booster for seniors. Water helps your body absorb nutrients and minerals, and flushes body waste. Drink at least 8-9 glasses of fluid a day to prevent dehydration. Try these steps:
- Drink a glass of water before and after every meal and in-between snacks.
- Mix it up with some low-fat soup, milk, and caffeine-free tea or coffee.
- Also, keep a water bottle handy for sipping throughout the day.
9. Reduce alcohol intake
For alcoholic beverages, CDC recommends no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks/day for men.
10. Quit smoking!
Smoking is already a well-known villain in our lives. But as we age, the harmful effects of smoking make our body even weaker, leading to more problems. Nobody wants that right?
So, make sure you minimize it or just quit it. Get help from your family and friends who encourage you to quit smoking and some extra support from a family doctor or a well-wisher to keep that in check.
Read more about the ill effects of smoking, immunity and other things in “Are you undermining your immunity?”
It is possible to combat the reduced immunity due to aging. You can do it with diet and lifestyle changes. This not only boosts immunity but helps you stay fit as you age.
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