HOW can WE STRENGTHEN our IMMUNE SYSTEM?
By Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.
Our immune system faces many challenges, even more as we age, and all the more so as we all face COVID 19. “As we get older, our physical self is not as strong and robust as we were when we were 22, and the same holds true for our immune system”, says William Schaffner, MD an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville ( https://www.consumerreports.org/health-wellness/important-ways-to-build-immunity-a1067912808/ ).
Older individuals produce fewer T-cells, which fight infection. We also tend to have more inflammation chronically, which increases our risks of illness. Medical experts recommend several steps we can incorporate into our daily lives:
- An annual flu shot protects folks over 65 , who are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu. Pneumonia vaccine helps protect against this illness which is often a complication of more severe flu. Shingles vaccine is about 97% effective for those between 50 and 70, and 91% effective for individuals over 70; it takes two doses 2-6 months apart. Vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap). And finally, a COVID booster of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, which greatly reduces the risks of severe Omicron variant illness, hospitalization, or death.
- The Mediterranean diet improves immune system functioning, as well as reduces chronic inflammation. This diet is mostly plant-based, with lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and small amounts of healthy fats, like olive oil. Replace beef with fatty fish, like salmon, eat sunflower seeds or almonds, as well as low-fat yogurt. Avoid tobacco use, and limit alcohol intake, keep you weight at a lower level.
- A 30-45 minute brisk walk each day improves immune system functioning. More fit women in their 60’s and above have fewer upper respiratory infections. Their T-cells operate more like women in their 40’s and 50’s.
- Get enough sleep, regularly. Getting 5 hours of sleep or less makes us 44% more likely to get a cold, compared to sleeping 7 or 8 hours. Maintain the same sleep schedule every day, to protect your circadian rhythm and improve immunity.
- Avoid germs. Wearing masks, social distancing, and hand washing – as well as more restricted lifestyle choices – practically eradicated the flu last year.
Restricted lifestyle choices are more and more difficult to tolerate after two years of pandemic living. Witness the travel crowds this past holiday season. Yet many of the above steps can be taken and followed consistently. Therapists at IPN will support such efforts by all our clients.
Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Torrance, CA. A member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network, he can be reached at 310 539-2772, or firstname.lastname@example.org Telehealth or in-person sessions are available.
Copyright 2022 by Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.