Healthy aging - how exercise supports the immune system

Plus, other tips on how to stay healthy as you get older



S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise and Fitness)
@AVogelUK
Ask Louise


21 August 2020

Why is exercise so important as we get older?

Exercise is less likely to be a habitual activity for older adults, perhaps due to issues such as mobility. This is unfortunate as exercise has been proven to support healthy aging and, in particular, it is known to benefit the immune system as we get older.

With this being a topic of great interest at the moment, this blog will cover the following points:

  • How exercise supports the immune system as you get older
  • Other reasons to stay active as you age
  • Plus, simple tips to keep healthy.

How exercise supports the immune system as we get older

One reason I would recommend staying as active as possible as you get older is to do with the benefits it can bring to your immune system.

With age comes a gradual deterioration of the immune system known as immunosenescence. We'd usually expect T-cells to kill infected cells, activate other immune cells and regulate the body's immune response. However, this process may not happen so efficiently in older adults, leading to an increased risk of infection and chronic inflammatory diseases.

Physical activity is beneficial here as, perhaps a little surprisingly, skeletal muscle helps to regulate immune function by releasing proteins called myokines which have anti-inflammatory and immuno-protective effects.1 This can help to reduce the systemic inflammation associated with chronic age-related diseases.

Tip: Check out my blog 5 exercise tips for older adults for tips and advice on how to be more active.

Vitamin D levels are also likely to be lower in older adults, particularly if you're spending a lot of time indoors. This is bad news for the immune system, as studies suggest that low vitamin D could raise the risk of infection from viruses; whilst vitamin D3, in particular, may be an important regulator of the body's inflammatory responses.2

Our greatest source of vitamin D is the sun, so spending more time moving outdoors will top up levels, whilst also giving the immune system an important boost.

Some foods that can also help to increase your intake of vitamin D include:

  • Mushrooms
  • Eggs
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon

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Other reasons to keep active as you get older

So, exercise is very good for our immune system, but there are several other ways in which it can benefit our health as we get older.

It can help to keep the weight off, for example, helping to reduce the likelihood of several illnesses, including respiratory illnesses3 and some serious issues relating to the heart that are more common in older adults.4

Also, according to Age UK, the number of adults over the age of 50 who experience loneliness is set to reach 2 million by 2025/26, compared to 1.4 million in 2016/17.5 Since exercise provides the opportunity to get out and meet people, it could offer one means of dealing with this issue. Walking football, Nordic walking and various exercise classes are just some examples of social sports.

On top of this, we experience a natural decline in muscle mass and strength as we get older, so keeping mobile supports muscle function and mobility.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say there are a whole host of reasons to stay active as you get older!

My self-care tip: Exercises for the immune system

Looking for exercise inspiration? Check out my video below to find out a couple of exercises that are particularly helpful for the immune system.

How do you stay healthy as you get older?

In addition to staying active, below I have listed a few other tips to support healthy aging.

Think zinc!

Another nutrient that older adults tend to have lower levels of is zinc. This too is problematic for the immune system.

Research has found that zinc deficiency can increase inflammation which, in turn, seems to affect how the immune system responds to stimulation.6

Low zinc was seen to increase the body's inflammatory response and triggered the improper activation of immune cells. This meant the body was unable to deal with inflammatory cytokine IL-6 properly, a glycoprotein that usually helps regulate the body's immune response.

Tip: A diet lacking in zinc can contribute to low levels of this nutrient; however, our ability to absorb zinc can also decline with age.So, at this time it is more important than ever to make sure you are getting enough zinc.

Immune Support contains 7.5mg of zinc, plus foods such as salmon, prawns, brown rice, cashew nuts and lentils can also help top up your intake.

Eat at your best

The likes of ready meals and processed foods may be convenient, but they are not likely to be all that helpful for your immune system and overall health.

Try getting more vegetables and fruit into your diet, as well as managing your intake of caffeine, alcohol and saturated fats (this includes things like cake, fried foods and pizzas).

I am sure you have heard all this before, so take this as a little reminder!

Get your sleep!

For several reasons, it can often be a little trickier to get a good night's sleep as we get older. Stress, lack of activity and sleep disorders are but a few contributing factors.

Not only will poor sleep leave you feeling wearier during daylight hours, the body also relies on a full night of rest to replenish the cells and proteins it needs to fight diseases. Poor sleep could, therefore, make you more vulnerable to infections and illness.

Consider a gentle sleep remedy such as Dormeasan Sleep if you are really struggling to drift off at night. Other than this, moving a little more is a great way to use up energy and reach a more peaceful night of rest.

Take a look at our blog, 'Do you sleep better when you exercise?' for more information on this particular topic.

References

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31175337/ 
2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5188461/ 

3 https://eje.bioscientifica.com/view/journals/eje/aop/eje-20-0541/eje-20-0541.xml 
https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/heart-health-and-aging 
5 https://www.ageuk.org.uk/latest-press/articles/2018/october/all-the-lonely-people-report/ 

6 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25656040/ 

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