No one appreciates good health more than we seniors. Life can be pretty precarious, especially when our immune system is compromised. So, it seems prudent for us to be aware of habits that have a significant impact on our immune system. Listed below are factors that may directly relate to the state of our health.
This seems obvious to most of us, as it should. If I miss a good portion of a night's sleep, I am acutely aware of that shortage the following day. The reality is also not lost on those near me - yes, that includes my wife, Dianne!
Loss of sleep makes us more susceptible to catching germs and viruses. It also slows down the process of recovering from an accident or illness. That's because our bodies cannot make as many infection-fighting cells and proteins, or antibodies, that help us defend against illness.
Our bodies release certain proteins called cytokines that help our immune system only while we sleep.
We might as well admit it, stress is a fact of life. If it’s well managed and controlled, stress can have positive benefits. Given the events we see occurring in the world today, stress can quickly become overbearing. Just dwelling on anxious thoughts for as little as 30 minutes can weaken our immune system.
Stress and worry aren’t great germ fighters. Just having anxious thoughts can weaken our immune response in as little as 30 minutes. Constant stress can take an even bigger toll and makes it more difficult to fend off illness. If we can’t shake off our worry or if worry gets in the way of normal life, we should consider talking to our health care provider or a trusted counselor.
We know we need Vitamin D for healthy blood cells and strong bones. Vitamin D also helps keep our immune system strong. It’s found in eggs and fortified foods like milk (even plant-based such as soy milk or almond milk).
Another great source of Vitamin D is sunlight. Fifteen minutes of sunshine on our hands, face, and arms 2-3 times a week is a good thing. In wintertime, a bit more would be helpful. Supplements are also a helpful aid to acquire adequate amounts of vitamin D and other nutrients.
God’s original diet for us, before sin entered the world, was all plant-based food, such as fruit, vegetables, and grain. He didn’t allow for animal consumption until after the flood, which destroyed all plants, animals, and humans, except those in the ark. Genesis 9:1.
Plant-based foods help our bodies make the white blood cells we need to fight off infections. Fresh produce and seeds and nuts pack a lot of zinc, beta-carotene, vitamins A, C, and E, with other nutrients we need for healthy bodies. Plant-based foods also fill us up with fiber, which helps lower our body fat percentage, which strengthens our immune systems.
Smoking pot inflames the lungs. Marijuana causes the same breathing problems we get from cigarettes. Nicotine in cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or in any other source weakens our body’s ability to fight germs. Vaping has the same effect. Chemicals in e-liquids suppress our immune response, especially when we inhale them through vaping.
Oils hinder germ-fighting white blood cells, Over time, high-fat diets upset the balance of bacteria that help immune response in our guts. Look for low-fat foods with no added sugar. Being obese makes us more likely to get the flu and additional infections, like pneumonia.
Alcohol slows the body’s ability to fight germs for up to 24 hours. Alcohol blunts our body’s ability to repair itself. This may contribute to why we are more likely to get illnesses like pneumonia, liver disease, tuberculosis, and certain cancers.
Some evidence suggests that long-lasting sorrow can depress our body’s immunity. The effect can linger for 6 months but may go on longer if the grief is deep or doesn’t ease. We should talk with our health care provider or mental health professional if we need help with a loss or a traumatic event.
Regular aerobic exercise helps our bodies fight illnesses caused by bacteria and viruses. That’s because it helps our blood circulate throughout our bodies more efficiently which carries germ-fighting substances to get where they need to go to protect our health.
The good news is, none of these touchpoints require large and painful adjustments. It’s mostly a matter of simply being more aware of our choices and thoughtfully responding. I’m going to be more sensitive to making better choices for my life. I hope you do, too.