While a strong immune system won’t prevent you contracting COVID-19, research has shown that you are less likely to fall prey to infections such as colds, flus and COVID; and if you do get an infection, you’re likely to recover faster. And that’s something we definitely all need as we continue to navigate the pandemic – particularly as we get older. Chances are we’ll be exposed to the virus at some point, and it makes sense to give ourselves the best possible chance of negotiating it successfully.
Here’s what you can do to strengthen your immune system to help ward off COVID-19, especially for those aged over 60.
You can do your immune system a world of good just by exercising for 30 minutes every day – and the good news is, you don’t have to do it all in one chunk. You can get just as much benefit by breaking your daily exercise up into three 10-minute blocks that you can fit around work or other activities. You don’t have to make it intense, hard exercise either – as doing too much exercise will often lead to burnout, fatigue and injury. It’s better to choose something you enjoy and build up gradually as you improve your fitness and strength levels, rather than going in all gung-ho and giving up after a short time. Just get moving – any way you can – and you’ll experience all the wonderful benefits to your immune system, such as:
- Increased blood and lymph flow
- Increased circulation of immune cells, which helps to detect illness earlier
- Stronger antibodies to help fight infection
- Reduced stress hormones
- Reduced bacterial growth and circulation due to the rise in body temperature experienced during exercise
Eat a variety of nourishing foods
There’s a strong connection between nutrition and immunity in older people; indeed, it’s been said that the immune system marches on its stomach. Infectious diseases are more common in malnourished people, and this effect is magnified as we age due to the way our immune response capability becomes increasingly reduced. Thus, it’s extremely important to eat a wide variety of nourishing foods the older we get, and not to miss out any food groups (such as carbohydrates).
Eat your two and five
Getting your two servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables a day has never been more important. It’s amazing how many people fail to meet this benchmark; and our immune system will suffer because of it. And not only do we need to get the portion size right, we also need to ensure we get a wide range of plant diversity and fibre quantity. It’s far better to eat 30 different plant foods per week, rather than eating the same fruits and vegetables every day. That sounds like a lot – but you can use simple hacks such as choosing a four-leaf salad mix rather than a bag of lettuce; or a four-bean mix rather than a single type. Doing so will help maximise your gut health and immune function.
People of all different sizes can get COVID, but those who are obese have the worse outcomes once you contract the disease. Losing weight will go a long way towards helping us survive COVID-19, and while it’s never easy, it’s certainly worth making a big effort on the weight-loss front.
Get enough sleep
Sleep is the most underrated way of improving our health and wellbeing, but it’s one of the most important. These days we’re collectively getting less sleep than previous generations by about an hour – and that’s due to increased screen time. And while it can seem like it’s impossible to get teenagers to cut down on their screen time, older people can also be prone to “screen inertia”. It’s important to shut down that screen about an hour before bedtime to ensure quality sleep, and to give yourself the best chance of getting the seven to eight hours a night you need for optimal immune system function.
Click here to discover how older adults can get a better night’s sleep.
Give your immune system a break
It’s also important not to overtax your immune system on a daily basis, so that it can function optimally when it’s needed to fight off infection. And how do you overtax your immune system? Usually by eating a lot of unhealthy food, and too many calories. Excessive meat eating can also be to blame. Overdosing on unhealthy food triggers an immune response and causes inflammation in the body, making your immune system work harder than it really should. Give your immune system a break and cut out excessive refined food – aim to eat your food in as natural a state as possible.
Research has suggested that positive emotions can support immune system function – and it’s certainly well documented that your mental state can affect your health. Our immune system and nervous system interact closely. Adding activities that boost your happiness is an effective way to give your immune system a boost, bolster your resistance to viruses such as COVID-19 and increase antibody activity which helps fight off infection. And of all the things we’ve listed here today to try, this one’s definitely the most fun!
Read more secrets to living a longer, healthier life here.