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Written by Helen Chu, MS RDN, US Registered Dietitian

Immune system is a network of special cells, tissues, organs that work together to defend the body against bacteria and virus.  When the immune cells detect virus, immune response will be triggered to destroy the virus.
The body’s defense system weakens with age, making older adults more susceptible to infections.  As we age, we make fewer immune cells – such as T cells which help to protect us against infection. 

How to optimize and strengthen immune health?

Your lifestyle can affect how well your immune system can protect you from infection
  1. Do not smoke
Smoking is the biggest threat to your immunological health. Smoking weakens the body’s immune system.
  1. Regular Exercise
Exercise contributes to overall good health. Studies show that regular moderate exercise for 20-30 minutes daily can help stimulate the immune system.
  1. Adequate rest and sleep
Adequate sleep and rest is helpful.Persistent lack of sleep suppresses the immune system.
  1. Get vaccinated
Vaccination lowers the rate of sickness and death compared to those with no vaccination.
  1. Minimize stress
Great stress lowers the immunity, making it easier for virus bacteria to invade our body.
  1. Good hygiene  
Frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds can prevent spread of germs. If soap is not available, use hand sanitizer to wash your hands.
Virus can survive on hard surface up to 24 hours. Use sanitizing gel or disinfectant wipes to clean and sanitize door knobs, table tops, faucets, etc.
  1. If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation. Alcohol lowers your white blood cell ability to kill virus and bacteria.
Eat Well

Healthy immune system depends on adequate intake of protein, vitamin, mineral. When individuals have poor appetite, inadequate amount and variety of food can put them at risk of malnutrition. If one is malnourished, he or she will have a weaker immune system, thus get sick more easily, stay sick for a longer period and experience more severe symptoms.
What nutrients can improve and support immune function?

Some vitamins and minerals contain powerful antioxidant properties that help our body to fight off infections.  The best way to load up these nutrients is to get them through food as they can be found in variety of food.
  • Vitamin A - sweet potato, carrot, tomato, red bell pepper, squash, milk and dairy products.
  • Vitamin C - boK choy, kale, broccoli, bitter melon, spinach, berries, citrus fruits, melon, red grapes.       
  • Vitamin E - sunflower seed, almond, hazel nut, peanut butter, vegetable oil.
  • Zinc - lean meat,chicken, lean meat, blackeye peas, pinto beans.
  • Supplements - if you eat five to eight servings of fruits and vegetables daily, there is no need to take supplements to get the immune enhancing vitamins, minerals.
  • Probiotics- Studies have linked health benefits with probiotics. By consuming probiotics, you are adding healthy bacteria which may boost immunity and improve digestive health.
  • Yogurt, kefir, miso, kimchi, tempeh are good sources of probiotics.  Yogurt, Kefir are also great sources of protein, zinc, calcium.
All year long, maintaining a well-balanced diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and adopting healthy lifestyle behaviours can strengthen your immune system and fight off illness.