Focus On Health > 5 Ways to Fortify Your Immune System

Focus on Health

5 Ways to Fortify Your Immune System

You may have been tempted by ads touting the immune-enhancing benefits of certain nutritional supplements. One supplement manufacturer goes so far as to claim that you can multiply your immunity and live longer and free of illness if you take their products. These claims are all fanciful and unsubstantiated. Nevertheless, you can still take some sound measures to help fortify your aging immune system:

  1. EAT A HEALTHFUL DIET and don’t think that supplements can help you. No single food or vitamin can, by itself, boost your immunity. Overall, vitamins A, C, D, E, B6, B12, and folate, and the minerals selenium, zinc, copper, and iron, are essential for normal immune function. To help keep your immune system functioning properly, make your diet a healthful one. Foods derived from plants—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes (such as beans and lentils)—should make up the bulk of the calories you consume.

    Consistent and robust evidence showing that taking vitamin and mineral supplements can fortify the immune system is lacking. There’s no reason to believe supplements will boost immunity in healthy people, except in the malnourished and those deficient in such nutrients as vitamin C, certain B vitamins, and zinc. Contrary to the claims of those touting supplements for improved immune function in healthy people of any age, other research suggests that megadoses of certain nutrients can significantly suppress some immune responses.

  2. GET VACCINATED. An annual flu shot is one of the best ways to garner protection against the influenza virus. Two vaccines are specifically formulated to compensate for the declining immune response in people ages 65 or older. Doctors also recommend boosters that protect against tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and diphtheria every 10 years; a pneumonia vaccine for people 65 and older; and a zoster (shingles) vaccine for everyone 50 and older. However, your doctor may recommend a different schedule if you have any risk factors, such as a chronic health condition, that make you more prone to infection.
  3. EXERCISE. Some evidence suggests that long-term, moderate exercise may be associated with improved immune function in older adults. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults, including those ages 65 and older, get at least 150 minutes each week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, swimming, or cycling. One caveat: Don’t overdo it. Strenuous exercise can suppress the immune system’s activity.
  4. STOP SMOKING or vaping. Research has shown that smoking suppresses immune cells. One potential reason comes from a study published online in August 2018 in Thorax. The authors found that e-cigarette vapors impair the function of the immune system’s debris-eating white blood cells. The good news: When smokers quit, immune function begins to improve within 30 days.

    The National Institutes of Health warns that because the coronavirus attacks the lungs, it could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape. If you need help quitting, talk with your doctor. You can also call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or go to for help.

  5. REDUCE STRESS. Research shows that stress affects the immune system, and some evidence suggests that age-related changes in the immune system accelerate when a person is under constant stress, such as caring for a chronically ill loved one.

    Fortunately, research also suggests that managing chronic stress helps strengthen immunity. Studies on the impact of stress reduction techniques on the immune system are ongoing. In the meantime, experts say practices such as mindful meditation and yoga can help you de-stress. Meeting with a counselor or therapist can also help you find more effective ways to cope with life’s stressors.

Although nothing is guaranteed to shield your immune system from the effects of aging, research suggests there are ways to enhance it.

This information is designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for personal medical attention, diagnosis or treatment. If you are concerned about your health, please consult your licensed healthcare professional.

Reprinted with permission from UCB Health and Wellness Publications, © 2020.

The appearance of any trade name in this material is not an endorsement or recommendation of that product.

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