‘Tis the season for colds and flu. To avoid getting sick, it’s vital to build a strong immune system, which is the body’s self-defense mechanism. Immune systems are on constant alert for foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. But if they’re not strong enough, they can’t fight them off.
Poor health habits and nutritional deficiencies can weaken your immune system. In addition, as we age, we have fewer immune cells and these cells don’t communicate as well with each other to attack invading viruses and bacteria. That’s why it’s important for seniors to maintain a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition, exercise, sleep and social activities to optimize your immune system.
Here’s how to get started:
What you put into your body is key to keeping you healthy. Good nutrition strengthens your immunity to fight viruses (and disease) and helps you get better faster. Certain nutrients are known immunity builders. Overall, enrich your diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and fiber. And seek comfort in warm chicken soup, which scientists have proven really does work against cold and flu.
Work in these foods and nutrients to build a strong defense against illness:
- Pump up the protein. Protein helps your body maintain and build strength. Many protein-packed foods also contain vitamins B6 and B12, which are key to fueling a healthy immune system. High protein foods also are rich in immunity-building minerals such as selenium and zinc.
- Get fruity. The bright colors in fruits, called flavonoids, pack powerful nutrition. In addition to the generous supply of vitamin C from fruit, the soft white skin in citrus fruits such as grapefruit, oranges, lemons and limes are loaded with flavonoids that kick the immune system into high gear.
- Enlist the green team. Cruciferous vegetables such as kale, collard greens, broccoli and cabbage contain powerful, infection-fighting antioxidants. Watercress and arugula also may have antiviral effects and can help relieve chest congestion and coughs.
- Delight in doses of D. Besides building bone strength, vitamin D also fights against cold and flu. Researchers show people with low levels of vitamin D have an increased risk for cold and flu. Scientists also have found vitamin D is critical to activating our immune defenses.
- Call in the pros. Probiotics go beyond helping with digestion. These “good bacteria,” such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus, stimulate the immune system to help your body protect itself from colds and flu. Probiotics increase the percentage of different types of immune cells. More than 70 percent of immune cells that produce illness-fighting antibodies live in your digestive tract lining. So caring for these immune cells with probiotics may help you better battle winter’s colds and flu. In addition, probiotics help the body better absorb nutrients—another key to disease prevention.
- Zero in on antioxidants. Antioxidants, such as vitamin C, E and beta carotene, can strengthen your immune system to help you fend off colds, flu and other infections, too.
Nutrition is always a priority at McKnight Place. Residents enjoy some of the finest restaurant-style dining from an award-winning chef, Anthony Lyons, CEC. He creates fresh, nutritious meals with a gourmet flair to keep residents healthy year-round. The chef will even create special meals for celebrations and parties.
As much as we all want to hunker down for the winter, don’t let cold weather prevent you from exercising. One study found people who exercised five-or-more days per week were about half as likely to get a cold as those who exercised less. In fact, physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu or other illness.
Getting your blood pumping through exercise also circulates more white blood cells, which fight infection. And the rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing and help the body fight infection better.
In addition, moderate exercise helps keep you fit and reduces stress levels, both of which make your immune system stronger.
At McKnight Place, the options for exercise are limitless.
Residents can kick start their day by joining friends in a walking club or participate in yoga, ballet, tai chi or other fitness classes and activities designed for every ability. Amenities at McKnight Place such as a fitness area, greenhouse, lush gardens and walking paths also encourage an active lifestyle.
Get Enough Sleep
Just like our minds and moods, the immune system functions best when it gets enough sleep. Research shows that too little sleep — or poor-quality sleep — lowers immunity, even in young healthy people. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep each night.
Friendships and good health go hand in hand. Studies show we’re healthier when we feel supported by friends. These friendships can lower blood pressure, improve hormone function, reduce stress and create a stronger immune system. Strengthen your social connections and your immune system by volunteering, taking classes and participating in social outings.
Opportunities for social activities and building friendships are woven into the fabric of McKnight Place. From the walking club to card games, dinner plans, spiritual services, happy hours, learning opportunities and regular educational, cultural, dining and entertainment outings, residents live an engaged, social lifestyle in our community.
Ongoing stress may lessen your immune response, so you’re more vulnerable when a virus comes your way. Stress also can cause poor sleep and lead to eating poorly, both of which may affect your immunity.
Some other steps to take to stay healthy this winter include steering clear of people who are sick, washing your hand frequently, and making sure you’re up to date on your vaccines, including for the flu and pneumonia.
With healthy meals, fitness classes, social outings and more, McKnight Place is a thriving, lively community with a focus on wellness and vitality every month of the year.
For more information or for a personal tour, please call 314-993-3333 or visit McKnightPlace.com.