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Clean up your lifestyle habits to boost your immune system

by Staci Gulbin | Contributor
April 8, 2020


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Now is a more important time than ever to start cleaning up your lifestyle to help your immune health. As you age, your immune function becomes slower to respond to illnesses, infections or injuries you may encounter. This can make you more prone to complications if you develop such conditions. Although you can’t control the effects of aging so much, there are some lifestyle factors you can control to help boost your immune system as much as possible.

Eating healthy, staying active and being food safe are just some ways you can protect your health. Read below to learn what you can do today to help strengthen your immune system so you can help your body fight off illness better.

What is the immune system and how does aging affect its function?

The immune system is the way your body defends itself against pathogens or unwelcome invaders like viruses or infection. When a pathogen enters the body, the immune system is activated to release cells such as white blood cells rush to fight out the invader and prevent illness.

However, as a person ages, the number of white blood cells and other immune system cells like T cells is less. In turn, the less an older person’s immune system can remember an antigen, or invader, and defend the body against it.

How can I control my immune health?

Eating healthy

You’ve probably heard it time and again, but it’s important to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. This is not only because they are full of fiber that is good for digestive health. However, it’s because brightly colored produce can provide you with a slew of antioxidants that fight inflammation.

When you can boost your body’s antioxidant power, you can lower your risk of chronic diseases linked to inflammation. These conditions include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, to name a few. To strengthen this anti-inflammatory power, lower your intake of foods like highly refined breads, pastas, baked goods, sugary drinks, and sweets. This is because such highly processed foods can increase risk of inflammation in the body.

By limiting inflammation in the body, you can boost your immune system health.

Staying active

Another way to reduce inflammation and improve immune system health is to stay active. Exercise helps to flush bacteria out of the lungs and airway and slows the release of stress hormones.

This activity doesn’t have to be an aerobics class or boot camp. It could be as simple as taking a walk around the block for about 20 to 30 minutes a day or working in a community garden for 30 minutes a few days a week. Other ways you can stay active include:

  • Taking a dance class
  • Attending a low-impact water aerobics class
  • Join a walking club in your community
  • Engage in some housecleaning

If you have mobility issues, consult with a physical therapist to see what exercises you can safely do at home to benefit your health. You can call your insurance company to inform you of covered physical therapy services in your area.

Being food safe

It’s important to make sure that the food you consume is not only healthy but safe. This is because if you consume certain foods that are prone to bacterial growth, this could place your health at risk unnecessarily. In turn, this could cause unneeded stress on your body and weaken your immune system. Also, those with already weakened immune systems can be harmed by consuming such foods.

Therefore, follow the tips below by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to stay food safe:

  • Avoid foods in the temperature danger zone. Foods should not be consumed between the temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Foods within this zone are more prone to bacterial growth and can cause food poisoning.
  • Refrigerate foods promptly after purchasing them. When you bring groceries home, put away nonperishable items first. And if you have leftovers from a meal, store them in a tightly sealed container and promptly place in the refrigerator.
  • Cook foods at the proper internal temperature before eating. Purchasing a meat thermometer can assist with this. Such products will often provide a guide to the proper internal temperatures for different animal products.
  • Wash your hands often as well as utensils and surfaces. Especially wash surfaces after prepping foods and don’t reuse a washcloth or sponge that you cleaned up raw foods with for other surfaces.

Practice hygiene

Besides keeping your food clean, be sure to keep yourself clean, too. This means not only washing your hands before and after eating, but also brushing and flossing in the morning and before bed. Cleaning your hands and body can prevent bacteria that you encounter day to day from causing infection in any open wounds or broken skin that you may have. This in turn can prevent inflammation and infection, which over time can place stress on your body and immune system.

Also, it’s important to brush and floss twice a day to not only prevent cavities, but also to keep your gums healthy. If plaque builds up on the gums, it can cause an infection known as gingivitis that can cause bleeding of the gums and can make you more susceptible to losing teeth. Not to mention that poor oral hygiene is linked to increased heart disease risk.

Find ways to connect and destress

Aside from being clean, it’s important to manage stress to reduce inflammation and keep your immune system as strong as possible. There is a theory known as the gut-brain-skin axis that reveals that when you are feeling stress or anxiety in your brain, it can affect the health of your gut. This stress causes an imbalance in your gut bacteria, which in turn can lead to inflammation, cell damage, and increased risk of chronic disease. Therefore, use the following ways to help you manage stress:

  • Talk to a therapist to help you identify your stress triggers and to help you develop coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and anxiety.
  • Attend a weekly yoga or meditation class in your community to help you decompress and learn relaxation breathing exercises to better cope with life stressors.
  • Call on a friend or family member to talk to about your worries or to remind you of the positive things in your life.
  • Join a community volunteer group to help others to provide a sense of purpose, which can help lower your stress levels.

Visit your doctor regularly

No matter if you have underlying health issues or not, you should visit the doctor at least once a year. This can ensure you stay on top of any health issues that may arise such as increased blood glucose levels, elevated blood pressure, or high cholesterol that could lead to heart disease or diabetes if untreated. Such inflammatory conditions can take a toll on your immune health and in turn make you more prone to illness in other ways.

If you already have an underlying health condition, it’s important to visit your healthcare provider at least every six months or more. If you’re hesitant to visit the doctor due to medical bills, call your insurance company to see what appointments and lab tests are covered. Once you find out this information, take advantage of such visits so you can receive whatever health care you can to benefit your health.

Can I start to boost my immunity now?

In times like these where there are unknown viruses in our midst, it’s vital to do whatever you can to protect your health. You may not be able to avoid all illness and infection. However, just reducing inflammation in your body will help your body become better equipped to deal with any illness it encounters.

Therefore, try adopting the behaviors above today. And if you need help getting started, contact a registered dietitian or other qualified health care provider to help you. Call your insurance company to see if they cover telehealth consults that you can attend in the comfort of your home over your phone or computer. Many dietitians are offering such consults for clients to make it easier for everyone to learn how to be their healthiest self.

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