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Kent Probst, BS, MEd
Kent Probst is the owner of Long Healthy Life Blog
How to Boost Your Immune System: Why it’s Important
Knowing how to boost your immune system is important since immunity weakens with age, making you more vulnerable to chronic inflammation, cancer, and infections.
More specifically, the activity of natural killer (NK) cells declines, and the number of naive and memory T cells decreases.
Low-grade, chronic inflammation also contributes to the deterioration of the immune system, also known as immune senescence, making the elderly more vulnerable to the following:
- Metabolic syndrome
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
Another significant effect of aging on the immune system is the atrophy of the thymus gland. When the thymus shrinks, less T cells are produced, resulting in an imbalance between memory T cells and naive T cells.
With all this in mind, it’s not surprising that you’d like to know how to strengthen your immune system to prevent or mitigate diseases associated with aging.
How to Boost Your Immune System: 6 Strategies
1. Get the Right Amount of Exercise
Regular exercise in moderation has demonstrated benefits for your immune system, such as reduced risk of infection by as much as 29%. By contrast, excessive prolonged exercise can contribute to immune dysfunction, lasting 3-24 hours.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous cardiovascular exercise to significantly reduce the risk of disease.
Moderate intensity is 40%-59% of heart rate reserve (HRR) and vigorous intensity is 60%-89% of HRR.
To calculate your target heart zone:
- Maximum heart rate = 220 minus your age
- Measure resting heart rate in one minute
- Calculate heart rate reserve (HRR) by subtracting resting heart rate from maximum heart rate
- Multiply HRR by 40%. Add your resting heart rate to this number.
- Multiply HRR by 59%. Add your resting heart rate to this number.
- These two numbers are your target heart zone for moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise
Modes of cardiovascular exercise should involve major muscle groups such as running, swimming, bicycling, cross country skiing, stair climbing, high intensity interval training (HIIT), or walking. Frequency: 3-5 days per week.
Resistance training 2-3 times per week and flexibility 2-3 times per week should also be part of your workout.
2. Get Adequate Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation says that a third of Americans experience insomnia. It’s an epidemic problem. A third get less than 7 hours of sleep per night.
Did you know that chronic insomnia can lead to heart disease, poor learning and memory, diabetes, depression, weight gain, and premature skin aging?
Insomnia weakens your immune system by increasing levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), which promote inflammation.
A weakened immune system increases the risk of bacterial, parasitic and viral infections.
Getting adequate sleep (7-9 hours) means significantly improving your health by reducing the risk of all the health problems that go along with it.
3. Keep Stress Levels Down
Because stress is so common, your body is designed to adapt and deal with it by engaging in a stress response, also referred to as the “fight or flight” response.
During this process, your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is activated, which is a network of signaling centers in your brain and body that help you respond to stress. The hormone cortisol is also produced during this time.
Normal activation of the HPA axis is necessary and helpful for your body during acute stress, but experiencing chronic stress can interfere with its normal functioning and can lead to excess cortisol production.
This can create many stress-related problems, such as:
- Mood disorders
- Heart problems
- Gut disorders from an imbalanced microbiome
- Weakened immune system
- Weight problems
- High blood sugar
- Headaches and muscle pain
- Inflammation within the body
Consider adding self-care activities such as meditation, spending time with nature, journaling, and massage as ways of managing stress in your life.
4. Follow a Healthy Diet
One of the best ways to boost your immune system with food is to keep levels of inflammation down, since chronic inflammation contributes to the deterioration of the immune system.
You can mitigate inflammation by following the anti-inflammatory diet or the Mediterranean diet. Anti-inflammatory foods include:
- Fatty fish
- Citrus fruits
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil
- Fermented foods
The Mediterranean diet is proven to be among the best for overall health and longevity. It’s simple and delicious and can be enjoyed by anyone.
5. Consider Nutritional Supplements
Getting adequate nutritional support is imperative to boosting the immune system. While not a comprehensive list, here are some nutritional supplements to consider to maintain a strong immune system:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
For personalized one-on-one nutritional counseling consult the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
6. Avoid Excessive Alcohol
While moderate alcohol consumption (1-2 drinks per day) has some health benefits, such as reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, it’s not without risks, such as esophageal cancer.
Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with alcoholic liver disease, sepsis, acute respiratory distress syndromes, pneumonia, poor wound healing, difficult recovery from trauma and infection, and slower wound healing.
Consult with your physician regarding alcohol consumption and your health status.
Maintain a Strong Immune System for a Lifetime
The strategies outlined here provide a foundation on which you can build a strong immune system.
Fortunately, immune senescence is not a foregone conclusion. You have quite a few options for maintaining an immune system that’s able to ward off many pathogens and diseases of aging late into life.
Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please note that I’ve linked to these products purely because I recommend them and they are from companies I trust. There is no additional cost to you.