3 Ways to Boost Your Immune System as You Age

3 Ways to Boost Your Immune System as You Age

As you age, you’re at a greater risk for disease, but by leading a healthy lifestyle, you improve your immune response.

Your immune system is challenged as you age: Your disease-fighting cells declines. Your innate immunity changes—that’s protection provided by your skin, sweat and tears—and you develop inflammaging—the accumulation of inflammatory mediators in your tissue. Oh, those random aches and pains!

The decline stops here
You can do a great deal to promote a stronger immune system as you get older. And you are never too young or too old to start accumulating the benefits of improved nutrition, increased physical activity, better sleep and less unmanaged stress. So here’s our three-step plan to boost your immune strength with age.

  1. Move more.
    A new study from the University of Birmingham in the U.K. shows that a consistent adherence to an exercise routine transforms your immune system. For this study, published in Aging Cell, the scientists looked at 125 adults 55 to 79 years old who maintained a high level of physical activity (cycling) for much of their adult lives and compared them with 75 age-matched adults and 55 young adults not involved in regular exercise.
    Although running marathons can cause a prolonged decrease in immune activity, the researchers found that the larger group of older adults had a more robust production of infection-fighting cells from the thymus than inactive people. The researchers concluded, “… many features of immunosenescence [decline of immune function] may be driven by reduced physical activity with age.”
  2. Reduce stress and get better sleep.
    The second part of boosting your immune strength comes from reducing your stress response and increasing your quality and quantity of sleep. Psychoneuroimmunology reveals that stress that lasts a few days or becomes chronic interferes with T-cell responsiveness and dulls the immune system. But a study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Science shows that mindful meditation can help reduce stress. Other studies have also shown how mindful meditation can help improve specific markers of inflammation, cell-mediated immunity and biological aging. Other stress-reduction techniques that can help boost your immune system are progressive and differential relaxation, breathing practices and visualization exercises.

    Sleep deprivation also triggers much of the same immune-damaging responses as stress does. It’s especially important that as you age, have quality sleep nightly. Research shows that poor sleep in older people is often associated with physical and psychiatric illnesses and the medications used to treat them. Ask your doctor what might  cause you to have insomnia or other sleep problems.
  3. Follow a healthy diet.
    Your nutritional choices have a huge influence on your immune health because of their impact on your gut and on other bodily systems. Dodge the five food felons: trans and sat fats, added sugars and syrups and any processed grain. Take 1000 IU of vitamin D3 daily and have seven to nine servings of fruits and veggies daily. Don’t forget to also get your micronutrients. You want to get enough zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, as well as vitamins A, C, E and B6.

If you follow these three steps you’ll feel and look better, achieve a younger RealAge and boost your immune health significantly.

Medically reviewed in February 2020.

Kick Immunity into High Gear with a Kicky Song
Kick Immunity into High Gear with a Kicky Song
Ever catch yourself humming that old Broadway tune "Everything's Coming Up Roses"? Maybe you should give it a try sometime. Your immune system may tha...
Read More
How is lymphedema treated?
Multiple Sclerosis FoundationMultiple Sclerosis Foundation
Getting rid of the excess liquid from lymphedema is important, as complications can develop when the...
More Answers
What is adaptive immunity?
Adaptive immunity is the body's response to specific invaders (antigens) such as viruses or bacteria...
More Answers
What Are the Health Benefits of Phytochemicals?
What Are the Health Benefits of Phytochemicals?