You need your immune system to be in peak performance in order to protect your body from harmful pathogens and other foreign substances. These include various pathogenic toxins, bacteria, viruses, blood from another person and cancer cells.
The immune system is the part of the body that makes immune cells and antibodies that together destroy the harmful substances that can affect the body and cause disease.
How Does Aging Affect The Function Of The Immune System?
As you get older, the various parts of the immune system don’t work as well as they did when you were younger, like everything else unfortunately.
You May Experience The Following Changes To Your Immune System:
• The immune system responds slower to the various antigens and pathogens exposed to it. This means you have a greater chance of becoming sick when exposed to a pathogen. Things like flu shots may not work as well as expected or may only protect you for a short period of time. This is why the flu shot is often recommended to be given twice in the same season to elderly people so the protection against the flu lasts longer.
• You may develop an autoimmune disorder. This is a condition of the immune system in which cells of the immune system make a mistake and attack the body’s healthy tissues instead. There are literally hundreds of different autoimmune disorders, including type I diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Grave’s disease, and lupus.
• The body may not heal as fast. This is because the body contains fewer immune cells when compared to when you were younger. Without an adequate number of immune cells, healing takes place much slower and there can be a greater chance of bacterial superinfection from bacteria that get into wounds or into lung tissue when you have a cut or are sick from a viral pneumonia.
• The body loses the ability to detect and correct defects in in the various cells of the body. A cell can mutate its DNA, for example, forming a cell that grows out of control and becomes a specific type of cancer. Older people are at a higher risk for cancer because their immune system fails to detect and recognize the cell as being cancerous and allows the cell to grow and divide into a cancer.
Prevention Of Immune System Decline In The Aging Population
There are things you can do to boost your immune system, even as you age, that will keep your immune system strong so that it can help you heal better from illness and can prevent you from getting a particular disease in the first place. Here are some things you might do to boost the level of your immune system as you age:
• Get the recommended vaccines. In the elderly population, there are certain vaccines that are recommended, including the shingles vaccine, the pneumonia vaccine, and the flu shot, which is given annually and sometimes twice a year in the elderly. Your doctor will likely recommend these vaccinations to you and you should take part in them according to your doctor’s recommendations.
• Get plenty of aerobic exercise. It has been determined that exercise can increase the effectiveness of the immune system. This means getting about 30 minutes of aerobic exercise like walking, running, or biking on most days of the week to keep your muscles and heart strong and to boost the effectiveness of the immune system.
• Eat foods that are healthy for you. It has been shown that good nutrition is vital for a healthy immune system. You need to eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats in order to get the protein and carbohydrates your immune system needs to protect your body against illness.
• Stop smoking and do not start the habit. Smoking cigarettes especially can cause your immune system to be weaker. You are especially more prone to getting lung infections if you are a smoker.
• Limit your intake of alcohol. Because alcohol can weaken the immune system, you should limit the number of drinks you have to less than two alcoholic beverages per day so that your immune system can remain healthy.
• Stay safe from falls and injuries. Because your immune system is weaker, any time you are injured you can expect to heal from these injuries more slowly than you would have if you were younger.