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5 ways to support your immune system as you age

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The more candles there are on your birthday cake, the less robust your immune system may be. Discover why and, more importantly, what you can do about it.

Ageing and the immune system

Birthdays are undoubtedly occasions to celebrate, but your immune system might beg to differ. 

A network of cells and proteins that defend our bodies against infection and illness, immune systems naturally wane as we grow older. 

The big question is what does that mean for your health and wellbeing? And is there anything you can do to fortify your immunity against the ageing process?

How does the immune system change with age?

The short story is that as you grow older, your immune system doesn’t tend to work as well. 

In real terms it means that, with age, you might be more likely to get sick because your immune system doesn’t react as quickly when it encounters ‘threats’ like a cold or flu virus. 

Plus, because the immune system contains cells that promote healing, you might also find that it takes longer for you to feel better if you do get sick and that wounds heal more slowly, too. 

What you can do to support your immune system health

If the bad news is that your immunity naturally and gradually loses strength with age, the good news is that there are things you can do to support it. This handful of suggestions is a good place to start.  

1. Stay active

Research shows that exercise has two effects on immune system health, both of them good. 

In the short term, it can help the immune system find and deal with ‘threats’ before they become a problem. In the long term, exercising regularly helps to slow down the age-related changes that occur to the immune system. 

Try to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise in a week, even if it’s in small 10- or 15-minute blocks. 

2. Be positive

A University of Queensland study found that as people grow older, those who make the effort to ‘accentuate the positive’ are more likely to have stronger immune systems as a result. 

3. Eat an immunity-friendly diet

There’s growing evidence that switching to a diet that’s more vegetarian or plant-based is good for your immune system, due both to the way it interacts with and influences immune health directly, and also to how it impacts your gut bacteria. 

A variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and nuts and seeds contain prebiotic fibres, which are resistant to digestion in the small intestine, so that they survive to ‘feed’ the good bacteria living in the large intestine.   

4. Look after your gut health

Doing what you can to encourage a healthier balance of ‘good’ over ‘bad’ bugs that live in your gut, as well as a larger diversity of bugs, has been shown to support a healthy immune system

Eating a plant-based diet and exercising regularly means you’re already heading in the right direction, but getting a good night’s sleep and avoiding soft drinks, whether they’re sugar sweetened or sugar free, will also help. 

5. And speaking of sleep

While getting too little of it suppresses the immune system, the opposite is also true – good sleep actually boosts the effectiveness of a specific variety of immune cells that help the immune system respond when it encounters a threat. Aim for seven hours of sleep a night