40 ways to boost the immune system: a guide for the elderly

As part of the natural ageing process, our immune system starts to slow down making us more susceptible to getting illnesses and infections. This can be especially worrisome for older adults who may already be living with other health conditions.

But building a strong and healthy immune system is easier than you might think. By enjoying an active and healthy lifestyle filled with nutritious food, plenty of exercise and manageable stress levels, you can strengthen your immune system at any age.

We’re sharing 40 ways to boost the immune system in this guide for the elderly. These healthy-living strategies are designed to help older adults boost their immune systems.

Just remember that it’s important to speak with your GP or healthcare provider before embarking on any new lifestyle changes.

How Ageing Affects Your Immune System

The body’s immune system – which is really just the body’s defence system – begins to get weaker as we age. This makes it more difficult for your body to fight off disease, illness and infection.

The medical community is still trying to uncover exactly why this happens, but there are many suspected reasons, including:

  • Reduced response well to vaccines: The thymus gland, which is responsible for producing T-cells, shrinks and becomes less active with age. T-cells are needed for vaccines to work, making them less effective in older people.
  • Slowed healing: In order to recover from illnesses and injuries, our bodies need immune cells called white blood cells. Since we produce fewer of these as we get older, it becomes harder to heal from injuries and illnesses.
  • Increased risk of autoimmune disorders: The immune system becomes less able to distinguish itself from ‘foreign invaders’. As a result, autoimmune disorders become more common.
  • Smaller amounts of complement proteins: Older people do not have nor produce as many complement proteins as younger people do in response to bacterial infections, making it harder for the body to recover.

40 Ways to Boost the Immune System

1. Get enough sleep

Getting enough sleep is vital for maintaining a strong immune system. When you sleep, your body goes into repair mode, working to regenerate cells, restore energy levels, and strengthen immune responses. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. Establishing a bedtime routine, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and practising relaxation techniques before bed can help you get a better night’s sleep.

2. Drink plenty of water

Staying hydrated is crucial for the immune system to function optimally. Water helps carry nutrients to cells, flush out toxins, and maintain healthy mucous membranes that act as barriers against pathogens. If you struggle to remember to drink enough water, try drinking a glass of water with each meal or keeping a glass of water by your bed as a reminder.

3. Eat a balanced and nutritious diet

A well-rounded diet provides the body with essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals necessary for a robust immune system. Try and eat a varied and colourful diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

4. Include immune-boosting foods in your diet, such as garlic, ginger, and citrus fruits

These foods are known for their immune-boosting properties. Garlic and ginger have antimicrobial properties that can help fight off infections and support immune health. Citrus fruits, such as oranges and lemons, are rich in vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant that supports immune function. Including these foods in your diet may provide a natural boost to your immune system.

5. Limit sugar intake

High sugar consumption can weaken the immune system by impairing its ability to fight off infections. Minimising processed foods and sugary beverages can help your body maintain a healthy immune response.

6. Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke

Smoking damages the immune system, making it less effective in combating infections. Remember that exposure to secondhand smoke can have the same negative effects on immune function as smoking itself.

7. Get regular exercise

Physical activity has many benefits for the entire body. It improves blood circulation, reduces inflammation, and enhances the production of immune cells, all of which contribute to a stronger defence against illnesses. Exercise doesn’t have to be vigors to be beneficial – try incorporating more walking, housework, gardening or gentle stretching into your everyday life.

8. Practice stress-reducing techniques, such as meditation or yoga

Chronic stress weakens the immune system and makes people of all ages more susceptible to illness and infection. Try and regularly engage in relaxation techniques to manage stress like meditation, mindfulness or yoga.

9. Wash your hands regularly

Proper hand hygiene is essential for preventing the spread of illnesses and pathogens. Washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds helps eliminate harmful bacteria and viruses. It is especially important to wash your hands before eating, after using the restroom, after coughing or sneezing, and after being in public places.

10. Maintain a healthy weight

Obesity can negatively impact immune function. By maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise, you support your immune system’s ability to defend against infections. If you are finding it challenging to manage your weight, speak to your GP. They can provide helpful resources and guidance.

11. Stay up to date on vaccinations

Vaccinations provide a targeted approach to strengthen the immune system against specific illnesses. Keeping up with recommended vaccines helps prevent infections and all their potential negative complications. People 65 and over should consider getting the yearly flu jab. You can get a free flu vaccine from your GP or pharmacist.

12. Limit exposure to environmental toxins

Environmental pollutants and toxins can have a serious negative impact on your immune health. To keep yourself safe try and minimise exposure to any harmful substances such as air pollution or chemical cleaners.

13. Make sure you’re getting plenty of Vitamin C, D, A, B 

These vitamins play essential roles in supporting immune function. Including foods rich in these vitamins in your diet or taking appropriate supplements helps ensure you meet your nutritional needs. Speak to your GP or healthcare provider to learn more.

14. Include probiotics in your diet to support gut health

Probiotics, found in foods like yoghurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables, promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria. A thriving gut microbiome contributes to a healthy body and a robust immune system.

15. Take zinc supplements to support immune function

Zinc is a mineral that plays a crucial role in immune health. Taking zinc supplements, under the guidance of a healthcare professional, may help enhance immune responses.

16. Use natural immune-boosting remedies, such as elderberry or echinacea

Certain herbal remedies, like elderberry or echinacea, have been traditionally used to support immune function. However, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before using any herbal supplements.

17. Avoid excess alcohol consumption

Excessive alcohol intake can have many detrimental effects on immune function. Alcohol disrupts the normal functioning of immune cells, impairing their ability to defend against disease. Chronic heavy drinking can weaken the immune system over time and increase the risk of developing infections. It’s important to practise moderation when it comes to alcohol consumption to support a strong immune system.

18. Manage chronic conditions

Chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, can weaken the immune system. Proper management of these conditions through medication, lifestyle changes, and regular check-ups is essential for supporting immune health. Learn how nurse-led care at home can help.

19. Practise good food safety

Proper food handling and preparation minimise the risk of foodborne illnesses that can make you sick. Follow food safety guidelines, such as storing food at the correct temperatures and avoiding cross-contamination, to protect your immune system.

20. Stay socially connected with family and friends

Maintaining social connections has a positive impact on overall well-being, including immune health. Engaging with loved ones and participating in social activities with family and friends helps reduce stress and loneliness and can even boost your immune system.

21. Stay mentally active by engaging in hobbies or learning new things

Laughter has been shown to have immune-boosting effects by reducing stress hormones and increasing the production of antibodies. Incorporating humour into your daily life can be as simple as watching a funny TV show, reading a joke, or spending time with people who make you laugh.

22. Avoid excessive stress

Chronic stress weakens the immune system and makes you more susceptible to illnesses. Engaging in stress-management techniques like relaxation exercises, mindfulness, yoga, hobbies, or seeking professional help can all boost your immune system.

23. Avoid close contact with sick people

Minimising contact with individuals who are sick, especially those with contagious illnesses, can lower your risk of contracting infections and help preserve your immune health.

24. Get enough Omega-3 fatty acids, either through your diet or supplements

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds, have anti-inflammatory properties that support a strong and healthy immune system. Including these foods in your diet or taking supplements can help ensure you’re getting enough Omega-3 in your diet.

25. Stay up to date on medical check-ups and appointments

Regular medical check-ups are essential for maintaining a strong immune system. These check-ups provide an opportunity for healthcare professionals to assess your overall health, detect any potential underlying conditions, and intervene early if necessary. To ensure you don’t forget to schedule your appointments, try using a calendar or setting reminders on your phone.

26. Practise good oral hygiene to help prevent infections

Proper oral hygiene, including regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups, helps prevent oral infections that can compromise immune function. Scheduling regular dental check-ups is also important. Dentists can identify and address any oral health concerns, such as cavities or gum disease before they progress.

27. Practise deep breathing exercises

Deep breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing, can help reduce stress levels and promote relaxation. Chronic stress has negative impacts on the entire body including the immune system, so it’s important to learn techniques like deep breathing or managing stress.

28. Avoid processed foods and eat whole foods instead

Processed foods often lack essential nutrients and can contribute to inflammation in the body. Opting for whole, unprocessed foods ensures you receive a wide range of nutrients that support immune health. If you can’t always have fresh produce on hand, try opting for frozen or canned varieties for convenience.

29. Eat foods rich in antioxidants, such as blueberries, raspberries, and leafy greens

Antioxidants, found in fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens, help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals and support immune function. Try to include antioxidant-rich foods in your diet, such as blueberries, raspberries, and leafy greens, to help boost your immune system.

30. Avoid excess salt intake

High salt consumption can increase blood pressure and impact immune function. Limiting your salt intake helps maintain a healthy immune response and supports overall health. This is especially important if you are living with a chronic health condition such as heart disease.

31. Get enough selenium, either through your diet or supplements

Selenium is a trace mineral that plays an important role in immune function. Including selenium-rich foods like Brazil nuts, seafood, and whole grains in your diet or taking appropriate supplements can help support immune health. Just be sure to speak to your GP or healthcare provider before taking any new supplements.

32. Get enough iron, either through your diet or supplements

Iron is essential for immune function, as it helps transport oxygen to cells and supports the production of immune cells. Symptoms of lack of iron include tiredness, fatigue and shortness of breath. If you suspect you have low iron levels, speak to your GP to have your iron levels tested and try including iron-rich foods like lean meats, beans, and dark leafy greens in your diet.

33. Engage in moderate sunlight exposure

Sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D, which plays a crucial role in immune function. Spending time outdoors and getting moderate sunlight exposure can help maintain the vitamin D levels you need to feel your best.

34. Avoid environmental allergens that may weaken your immune system

Allergens like pollen, dust mites, or pet dander can trigger immune responses and weaken the immune system over time. Minimising exposure to these allergens, using air filters, or taking necessary precautions can help support immune function.

35. Maintain a positive outlook and practice gratitude

A positive mindset and gratitude have been linked to improved immune function and better quality of life. Cultivating positivity, expressing gratitude, and engaging in activities that bring joy can contribute to a stronger immune system. A gratitude journal can be an easy way to get started.

36. Get enough copper, either through your diet or supplements

Copper is a trace mineral that plays a role in immune function and wound healing. Including copper-rich foods like organ meats, shellfish, and nuts in your diet or taking copper supplements, if needed, can help support immune health.

37. Use a neti pot or saline nasal spray to help keep your respiratory system healthy

Neti pots and saline nasal sprays can help flush out irritants and keep the nasal passages moist, which supports overall respiratory health. Just remember that following proper usage instructions and maintaining good hygiene practices are important when using these devices.

38. Use a humidifier to help keep your respiratory system healthy

Dry air can irritate the respiratory system, making you more vulnerable to respiratory infections. Using a humidifier in your living space can help maintain optimal humidity levels and support your overall respiratory health.

39. Seek emotional support when needed

Emotional well-being is closely connected to overall health and wellbeing. Seeking support from loved ones, joining support groups, or seeking professional help when needed can provide the emotional support necessary for maintaining a strong immune system,

40. Stay informed about current health guidelines and recommendations

Staying updated with the latest health guidelines, such as vaccination recommendations or hygiene practices, helps you make informed decisions and take appropriate measures to protect your overall health.

Elderly Care You Can Trust

For over 75 years, Prestige Nursing & Care has provided bespoke and highly-personalised home care designed to empower people to continue living safely and independently in their own homes, for all of life.

Contact our friendly team to arrange for a no-obligation home assessment. We will meet with you and your family to discuss your loved one’s care needs and how we can provide a care plan that enhances their independence and improves their quality of life.

Find out why our clients choose Prestige Nursing & Care for a high-quality, responsive home care service.

We are here to take your call and will provide impartial support and guidance – contact our friendly care experts today to discuss your care needs.

0808 239 1525


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