Over 50? Here are 6 tips to strengthen your immune system

Your immune system is your body’s first line of defence against infection. And a weakened immune system can leave you vulnerable to germs and bugs within your community.

But have you ever wondered if the strength of your immune system changes as you age? Is it as strong as it was when you were younger?

Here, we look at the science behind immunity and aging. And we’ll show you how to take control and boost your immune system with 6 daily habits.

How does aging affect your immune system?

As you get older, your immune system becomes less efficient. As you age1:

  • You have fewer white blood cells that can respond to new germs and bugs (pathogens).
  • Your immune system is less able to remember germs and bugs, to quickly combat them.
  • Your immune fighting cells (macrophages and T cells) slow down and respond less quickly to a wide range of pathogens
  • Your body may take longer to heal.
  • Your immune system can start to confuse your normal cells with pathogens. This may result in the development of autoimmune problems.
  • Your antibodies become less able to attach to the germs and bugs entering your body.

Overall, this means your body may not attack the virus strongly enough. And this could give you more serious and longer-lasting symptoms. the strength of your immune system changes as you age? Is it as strong as it was when you were younger?

But don’t be discouraged, you can take action to help boost your immune system as you age.

What can support your immune health as you age?

To help support your immune system as you age, you could try these 6, science-backed, daily habits:

  1. Exercise. Exercising daily helps boost your immune system.
  2. Eat healthy foods, with plenty of fruits and vegetables. You need adequate amounts of micronutrients to help bolster your immune system.
  3. If you find it hard to eat healthy all the time—life is busy—try adding a vitamin and mineral supplement.
  4. Get adequate sleep. Healthy sleep is a well-known immune system booster.
  5. Quit smoking. Smoking weakens your immune system.
  6. Limit your intake of alcohol. Ask a healthcare professional how much alcohol is safe for you.2

Get your flu shot! Having a yearly vaccination for the flu—or any other vaccinations your doctor recommends—can also help fortify your immune system.

 

How can zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D support your immune system?

Zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D are well-known micronutrients that help your immune system function optimally.

  • Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can protect your cells from damage. Undamaged immune cells are fit to fight germs and bugs.
  • Vitamin D—primarily produced by your skin when it’s exposed to UV light—can increase the number of special proteins in your body that defend your body against infection.
  • Zinc can also protect cells from oxidative damage. It also prevents rhinoviruses (common cold) from multiplying.3

When your diet is suboptimal, or you are experiencing significant physical demands (for example: strenuous training for an event, a stressful period in life, long working hours), you might consider dietary supplementation of these vital immune boosters.

References:

  1. Effects of Aging on the Immune System - Immune Disorders - MSD Manual Consumer Version. https://www.msdmanuals.com/en-au/home/immune-disorders/biology-of-the-immune-system/effects-of-aging-on-the-immune-system. Accessed February 24, 2021.
  2. 8 Immune System Boosting Tips for Seniors: Exercise and More. https://www.healthline.com/health/flu/boost-immune-system-over-65. Accessed February 24, 2021.
  3. Maggini S, Pierre A, Calder P. Immune Function and Micronutrient Requirements Change over the Life Course. Nutrients. 2018;10(10):1531.