It’s a fact of life that as we grow older, our immune system doesn’t work quite the way it used to. That’s important information to know because the body’s immunity is what protects us from catching common viruses that are making the rounds, as well as developing more serious health conditions such as cancer and pneumonia.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to help protect yourself. Some are medical interventions, such as vaccinations, but many are natural methods known to boost immunity.
Immunizations and Older Adults
Let’s start with the vaccinations recommended by the National Institute of Aging (NIA). Here is the schedule they suggest for older adults:
- Influenza: Early fall is the best time of year to get your annual flu shot. Most experts advise older adults to be vaccinated in late-September or early-October to be protected against early outbreaks of the flu.
- Pneumonia: In most cases, you will only need to receive the pneumonia vaccine once in your lifetime. If you received it when you were under the age of 55, however, your physician may want you to repeat the shot in later years.
- Shingles: If you’ve ever had shingles or know someone who has, you know just how painful it can be. Older adults, especially those with chronic health conditions, are at higher risk for shingles. If you had the chicken pox as a child, you are also at increased risk. This vaccine is usually good for about five years of protection.
- Tdap: Your physician may also recommend a Tdap vaccine to protect you from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, especially if you are around infants and small children on a regular basis. The vaccine is typically administered every ten years.
Natural Immune Boosters for Older Adults
From probiotics to exercise, there are natural methods seniors can use to pump up their immune system. Here are a few to talk with your family doctor about:
- Probiotics for Seniors: Probiotics are supplements that contain strains of healthy bacteria. These strains help with everything from fighting inflammation to decreasing bloating. While your physician is the best person to make a recommendation, most experts suggest a probiotic containing B. longum BB-536 for seniors.
- Exercise: Staying physically fit at any age is an important part of maintaining a healthy immune system. Getting 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week can help you fight off infections and illnesses. Walking, swimming and riding a stationary bike are all low-impact forms of exercise to speak with your physician about.
- Vitamins for Seniors: The best way to get the vitamins your body needs is by maintaining a healthy diet. Eating fruits and vegetables in all the colors of the rainbow can help pump up the immune system. While technically not a fruit or a vegetable, mushrooms are a food known to boost the immune system.
- Zinc Immune Booster: Tufts University, widely recognized for their work with seniors, has researched the role zinc plays in improving the immune system. Their research seems to indicate that increasing the amount of zinc you consume can increase the body’s immunity. Zinc is found naturally in oysters, seafood, red meat, poultry, beans and nuts. If you find yourself getting colds frequently, it’s worth talking to your physician to see if they recommend a zinc supplement.
Finally, Griswold’s Immunization and Vaccination Resource Center is a great place to continue to learn more about pumping up your body’s immune system. From tips for warding off the flu to a printable immunization schedule, you will find helpful resources for seniors.