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Health & Wellness

5 Tips That May Boost Your Immune System as You Age

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If you find yourself getting sick more frequently as you get older, you’re not alone.

Time takes its toll on all systems of the body, including the immune system, says Jeffrey Olson, M.D., an internal medicine physician with Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago. “As we get older, things may not work as well as they once did,” he says. “The immune system may need some help.”

Thankfully, advances in health care—including vaccines and preventive care—have the potential to make a lasting impact. Olson shared the following tips for boosting your immune system in pursuit of a longer, healthier life.    

  1. Get the flu vaccine every year. Muscle aches and pains, coughing, headache, fatigue—just reading about flu symptoms is enough to give you chills. But there's good news: you may be able to prevent all of the above by getting the flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that those six months of age and older get the flu vaccine each season to help protect themselves from getting ill. People with severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine should not receive the flu vaccine. Olson adds that it’s not just about protecting yourself, it’s also about community health. “It’s about protecting other people too,” he says. “If you’re not getting sick, you’re not getting other people sick.”
  2. Talk to your health care provider about getting vaccinated for pneumonia and shingles, too. The CDC recommends that adults 65 and older get the pneumococcal vaccine and that adults 60 and older get the shingles vaccine. Olson adds that vaccines are a way to help your immune system prepare and protect. “It may take longer for people that are age 65 or older to respond to acute infections, so it’s important to have these vaccinations as a booster, and try to give you an extra advantage,” says Olson.
  3. Wash your hands frequently. It sounds gross, but your hands really are disease carriers. Think of everything you touch in a day (doors, public transportation, desks, counters, toilets, other people) and then imagine all of the people who have touched those things before you. Wash your hands frequently (the CDC shares this list on when you should wash your hands), scrubbing them for 20 seconds at a time, and you may be able to help stop the spread of germs and potential illness.
  4. Improve your overall wellness. To stay healthy, Olson recommends getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating a well-balanced diet loaded with fruits and vegetables, cutting down on processed foods and managing stress. All of the above, he says, may help boost your immunity and help prevent illness down the line.  
  5. Contact your doctor if you’re concerned about your health. No one knows your health better than you. If something feels off—maybe you have a cold that’s sticking around, or you’re feeling tired all the time—Olson says it’s important to take action and reach out to your health care professional. Early intervention, he says, can make a big difference down the line. “Most issues are treatable,” says Olson. “We try to boost the immune system so it at least has a heads up of what’s going to happen.”

 What do you do to give your immune system a boost? 

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