It’s that time of year — the cooler winter temps have once again ushered in cold, flu and COVID-19 season. Researchers are beginning to unlock the mystery behind winter’s spike in upper respiratory tract infections. As it turns out, lower temperatures kill many of the virus- and bacteria-fighting cells in the nostrils, the first line of defense against germs that often access the body through the nose. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve your immunity even if cold temps undermine your first line of defense. Here are 7 of the best ways to boost your immune system:
1. Stay Up to Date on Vaccines
Older adults are particularly at risk of developing dangerous complications from the flu or COVID-19 infections. Fortunately, vaccines can help ramp up your defenses, decreasing your risk of life-threatening illness. Flu vaccinations have been shown to reduce older adults’ risk of flu-related hospitalization by over 40%. COVID-19 vaccines are similarly effective: Fully vaccinated adults age 65 and older were 94% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than their unvaccinated counterparts.
2. Nourish Your Immune System
A balanced and nutrient-rich diet can give your body an edge in fighting off disease. To make sure you’re getting the immune-boosting nutrients you need, create a kaleidoscope of color on your plate, filling it with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and proteins. Include probiotics in your daily fare, too. These healthy bacteria are found in cultured dairy products like yogurt, or in fermented foods such as sauerkraut.
3. Move Your Body
Being physically active keeps your body — and immune system — strong. One recent study found that people who worked out at least 30 minutes on most days were 4 times more likely to survive COVID-19 than inactive people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends older adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, plus 2 days a week of muscle-strengthening and 3 days of balance-boosting activities.
4. Stay Hydrated
Water plays a key role in immune function, carrying nutrients to vital organs and detoxifying the body by flushing out waste. But how much water do you need to stay hydrated? The answer can depend on your activity level, the weather, and the number of water-rich foods you eat. However, as a general guideline, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that men drink 13 cups (104 ounces) of water daily and women drink 9 cups (72 ounces) of water. If you’d like to boost your water intake, consider starting your day with a mug of hot water with lemon, or drinking a glass of water with every meal and snack.
5. Give Yourself the Gift of Good Sleep
A good night’s sleep refreshes mind, body, spirit — and it supports your immune system. Unfortunately, older adults can find it difficult to get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sound sleep they need. Following a regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine can help, as can avoiding late afternoon naps and caffeine. If sleep is still elusive, consider talking to your doctor about possible causes and solutions for your insomnia.
6. Manage Stress
Chronic stress can affect your immunity because the body shuts down certain “nonessential” functions, such as your immune system, to maintain fight-or-flight readiness. While everyone has periods of stress in their lives, there are ways you can help your body return to equilibrium. Set aside time to do things you find pleasant and relaxing, such as reading, painting or spending time outside. Try calming fitness activities like yoga, tai chi or swimming. Or try the best medicine — laughter — which has been shown to decrease stress hormones.
7. Connect with Others
Connecting with others makes you feel good and, according to studies, it’s among the best ways to boost your immune system. Research shows that social interaction increases antiviral immunity. So find ways to connect with loved ones — in person or through text, video chats, or even snail mail. Join clubs and classes, reach out to neighbors, or volunteer.
An Immunity-Boosting Lifestyle at Trillium Woods
At Trillium Woods, we’ve found that the best ways to boost your immune system are also the best ways to create a flourishing senior living community. Here, a maintenance-free lifestyle frees you from the stresses of homeownership. Our chef and registered dietician work together to create delicious, healthy fare from quality, seasonal ingredients. Dance classes, Wii® tournaments, and water aerobics offer ample opportunity to keep moving and to connect with others. And our on-staff Health & Wellness Navigator can work with you to develop a wellness plan that fits your personal goals and needs.
Contact us to learn more about the thriving, immunity-enhancing lifestyle at Trillium Woods, or to schedule a tour.