Importance of Immunizations
Getting your annual flu vaccine may seem like something you just have to do every year. But you may not realize just how important not only the flu vaccine is, but all vaccines are. Vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from preventable diseases. They help your body create protective antibodies – proteins that help fight off infections.
What can vaccines do for me?
In addition to creating protective antibodies, vaccines help prevent serious illness and have saved lives for over 100 years. Vaccines have greatly reduced diseases that once routinely harmed or killed babies, children, and adults. People all over the world, including those in North America, can still become seriously ill or even die from diseases that vaccines can help prevent. In fact, some vaccine-preventable diseases can have serious complications or lead to later illnesses. For these illnesses, vaccination provides protection not only against the disease itself, but also against the complications that could arise that may lead to hospitalization and even death.
A common illness we see every year is seasonal influenza, a respiratory disease, and an annual vaccine is available. It is important to get this vaccination each year as some complications can occur from this illness including but not limited to flu-related pneumonia, and flu-related heart attacks or strokes. These complications can affect anyone but are especially dangerous for persons with diabetes or chronic heart or lung conditions.
Importance of receiving regular immunizations as you age
Vaccines are especially important for older adults because our immune system weakens as we age making it more difficult to fight off infections. It is vital that we stay up to date with recommended vaccines, including boosters for enhanced protection. There are some vaccine-preventable diseases that are particularly prevalent and serious in older adults, such as shingles, influenza (flu), and Pneumococcal disease (pneumonia). In addition to being more susceptible to certain diseases, older adults are at a higher risk for serious complications from diseases.
Not only do vaccines protect you, but they help protect everyone around you! This is important particularly in a communal living situation such as a senior’s only building, retirement home, assisted living home or long-term care facility. According to statistics Canada, approximately 7% of Canadians over the age of 65 live in a collective dwelling such as a nursing home or long-term care home, and 9% of seniors over the age of 85 are living in these homes.
How can you boost your immunity in addition to Vaccines?
In addition to getting vaccinated, there are many things you can do to help your immune system.
This includes eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and ensuring that your diet consists of enough B vitamins, vitamin C, selenium, and zinc. B vitamins can be found in dairy products, grains, meat, eggs, and beans. Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables, especially red and orange types, and citrus fruits. Selenium is an antioxidant founds in small amounts in many foods including nuts, meats, and grains. Lastly, zinc can be found in oysters, beans, cheese, lentils, and meat.
It is important to be active throughout your life, but more so as you age. It keeps you strong, increases blood circulation, and has anti-inflammatory effects on the body. As an older adult, it is recommended that you engage in 150 minutes of moderately intense activity every week and do muscle building activities twice a week. Moderately intense activity can be walking, biking, or swimming and muscle building activities can be as simple as squats, arm curls, or any other exercise that involves the use of a weight, resistance bands, and in some cases just your own body weight.
Stress can be very harmful to the body including lowering your immune response. To manage stress properly, find time to do enjoyable things such as reading, doing puzzles, playing cards, watching your favourite sports team, enjoying the outdoors, exercising, or anything you can do to reduce your stress level.
Getting plenty of sleep:
Just as diet helps, proper sleep is one of the best ways to improve your immune system. Improper sleep in both quality and duration can have a significant impact on your immune system and overall health. If you find it difficult getting to sleep or staying asleep, consider trying these methods:
- Make sure your room is dark, quiet, and cool.
- Keep a regular bedtime routine when possible.
- Limit daytime naps to about 45 minutes
- Avoid caffeine later in the day
- Limit alcohol, as it may interfere with sleep quality.
Support your gut health:
Your body is home to trillions of tiny organisms. Microbiome is made up of a variety of beneficial bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa, most of which are found in your digestive tract (gut) and play many important roles in your overall health. Your gut health and immune system are very closely related to your overall health so keeping it healthy is very important. Some things you can do are:
- Eat lots of fiber-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
- Fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, kombucha, tempeh, miso, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
The chemicals in cigarettes are known to damage tissue in the lungs and increasing your cancer risk, but did you know they supress your immune response too? Smokers are more likely to contract respiratory illnesses such as the flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia. To improve your immune system function, consider alternatives to smoking such as the nicotine patch or gum.
Spending time outdoors:
Being outdoors has so many benefits for your health including reducing your stress levels and getting vitamin D from moderate sun exposure. Vitamin D helps strengthen the immune system and when the levels are adequate, they may help prevent inflammation and some autoimmune diseases.
As always, consult your doctor when discussing some of the different ways to boost your immune system in addition to getting vaccinated. Every person will have a different experience and your doctor will be the best source of information regarding the need for supplements and what exercises will best suit you.