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How to strengthen your senior immune system

Advice articles
How to strengthen your senior immune system

Staying well and feeling good have become goals for every New Zealander since the Covid-19 situation changed everything, but they’re particularly important if you’re over 70. What can you do every day to boost your senior immune system? A strong immune response is your body’s best chance of recovery if you catch a virus. It could also help you to avoid it entirely.

1. Eat immune boosting foods

While it’s tempting to reach for comfort food, which isn’t always highly nutritious, right now it’s really important to eat a wide variety of whole, minimally-processed foods. Focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrains, as well as smaller amounts of high-quality meats and dairy products. Avoid refined and highly processed foods full of sugar, salt and fat. And remember that no single food, pill or potion holds the key to good health or illness prevention.

  • Get vitamin A from eggs, cheese, kumara, pumpkin, carrots, spinach, broccoli, rock melon and dried apricots.
  • Get vitamin C from citrus fruits, kiwifruit, pineapple, leafy green veges and capsicum.
  • Get vitamin D from eggs, salmon, fortified dairy products and 10 minutes of sun exposure on bare skin each day.
  • Get zinc from shellfish, red meat, chickpeas, eggs, dairy products, cashew nuts.
  • Flavour your food with turmeric, cumin, cayenne, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, garlic and cloves

2. Exercise for immune health

Do something every day that gets your heart pumping and your muscles moving. Movement promotes good circulation, which helps your immune system to operate more effectively. Here are some ideas:

  • Go for a brisk walk in your neighbourhood, being careful to stay two metres away from other people.
  • Try the walking version of interval training: walk as fast as you can for 20 seconds, then slowly for 10 seconds, repeat until you get home.
  • Put on your favourite music and dance around the living room.
  • Find a yoga class or senior workout on You Tube – there are heaps of them.
  • Download an exercise app on your phone, like Daily Workouts.
  • Vacuum the house or sweep leaves.
  • If you have a stationary bike or treadmill, dust it off and use it!
  • Stand up while you’re watching the news or a television programme, to avoid too much sitting in your day.

3. Focus on gut health for immunity

Around 70% of your immune system is located in the gut, so if gut health is compromised it can negatively affect your immune function.

  • Eat a high-fibre diet – lots of fruit, veges, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains. These foods contain prebiotics, which help to feed the good bacteria in your gut. Kiwifruit, garlic, leeks and onions are particularly good prebiotics.
  • Consume probiotic foods, like natural yoghurt. Other probiotic foods that are commonly available today are kombucha (a fermented drink), sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) and miso (fermented soya bean paste).

4. Sleep for immune health

A lack of sleep and too much stress can impair your immune system, because your body carries out cellular repair processes when you’re asleep and excess cortisol (stress hormone) negatively impacts immune function.

For better sleep, avoid coffee and tea after midday. Find a herbal or fruit tea you like, as an alternative. Also, avoid watching TV or looking at your phone right before bed. Instead, read or listen to a book until you feel sleepy. To calm your mind when the lights go out, try ‘square breathing’ – breathe in for three counts, hold for three counts, out for three counts, hold for three counts, repeat until you fall asleep.

5. Give your immune system enough water

Are you in the habit of hydrating mostly with tea and coffee? Now’s a good time to re-programme yourself. Water is important for delivering nutrients around the body. It also aids digestion and keeps your nose and throat moist; this last point is very important, because mucous is one of the immune system’s first defence barriers. To ensure you’re drinking enough plain water every day, fill a jug or water bottle with 1.5 litres in the morning. See if you can get through all of it before bed (in addition to tea and coffee).