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Is it possible to boost the immune system of elderly individuals?

 In Adult Medicine, Ask an Expert, Pulse Blog

Q: How can seniors improve their immune system?

Yes! It is possible to boost the immune system of individuals at any age using fairly simple techniques. While it feels like there isn’t much we can control during this pandemic, we can control what we put in our bodies and what we do with our bodies.

Our diet is an incredibly powerful tool that can sustain and support our immune system, or slow it down, depending on the nutrient quality of our food. A diet rich in fiber-filled, minimally processed and antioxidant-rich foods (think fruit and veggies) builds up the immune system. Try to get at least one serving of fruit or vegetables in each color of the rainbow every day.

Staying well hydrated with water helps the immune system to function optimally. Eliminating smoking and limiting alcohol intake also boosts the immune system.

What we do with our bodies is equally important. Exercise helps keep the immune system functioning and has a positive impact on mood. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five times a week, but know that as little as 20 minutes of movement on most days can support immunity. What a great excuse to walk outside in nature!

Sleep is also essential for keeping the immune system on track. Aim for 7 to 9 hours nightly in a cool, dark, comfortable room. Avoiding screen time before bed can make it easier to fall asleep.

Social connection and stress management are also key. Schedule Zoom meetings or phone calls with friends and family. Remember to breathe. Reserve time for self-care activities (think music, art and hobbies). All of these can reduce stress and support immune system health.

—Joan Hunter, MD

Dr. Joan Hunter is an internist at the Vancouver Plaza Neighborhood Clinic, which serves adults with complicated health conditions. She enjoys working with patients to help them take control of their health and finds it rewarding to watch small changes lead to better wellness. She has a special interest in women’s health and lifestyle medicine.

Joan M. Hunter, MD