Help out your immune system with these simple habits for avoiding germs and infection.
Our immune systems slow down naturally with age (a process called immunosenescence), increasing the risk of infection and chance of developing an autoimmune disease, as well as reducing the body’s ability to battle cancer cells. Additionally, those who are immune-deficient (either as a condition of birth or side effect of medication) and those who are battling chronic disease also have compromised infection-fighting defenses. Dr. Roger Madris, an internal medicine specialist and geriatrician at White Plains Hospital, offers these simple habits to reduce the risk of getting sick:
“Making sure you are up-to-date on your immunizations is a great way to protect yourself from a number of avoidable viruses and illnesses,” Dr. Madris says. It’s important for all older adults to be vaccinated against the following:
- Tetanus diphtheria – every 10 years
- Pneumonia – every 10 years or less
- Influenza – every year in the fall
- Shingles – every 5 years
Practice smart food habits
Make sure meat is thoroughly cooked to kill germs. Be aware of expiration dates, as well as how long a food has been sitting in the fridge opened, especially hummus or deli meats (which must be used within five days of purchase). You can’t always tell that a food is bad by the way it smells. Most importantly, remember to wash your hands every time you eat. “It’s a good idea to carry a small hand sanitizer with you in case you can’t get to a bathroom,” Dr. Madris says.
Use common sense based on your specific health situation. For instance, a healthy 65 year old might not need to be as cautious as someone who is receiving chemotherapy for cancer. It’s possible pick up illnesses by being next to someone who is coughing or sneezing, by touching contaminated inanimate objects, and in some cases – like measles – just by breathing the air of someone who is nearby.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
“While there is currently no medication that can halt immunosenescence, a healthy lifestyle, like eating right and exercising, is beneficial in optimizing your immune system,” Dr. Madris says. For instance, eating a balanced Mediterranean-style diet including lean protein, fish, lots of green leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains and healthy oils is great way to give your body the nutrient variety it needs be in the best shape possible to fight infection. Try to exercise moderately two to three times a week, including strength training, such as resistance bands, light weights or even your own body weight.
Dr. Roger S. Madris is an internal medicine specialist and geriatrician with White Plains Physician Associates. To make an appointment at the Rye Brook location, call (914) 253-6504.