Five ways we can boost our immune system before and after the Covid-19 vaccine

One one of the things we can do to maximise our immune response to the vaccine is to improve our fitness and incorporate more exercise
Five ways we can boost our immune system before and after the Covid-19 vaccine

Boosting your immune system is important before and after the Covid-19 vaccine.

Dr Hannon, Specialist Registrar in Geriatric Medicine at Cork University Hospital (CUH) says while it has been an extremely challenging twelve months for everyone the vaccination programme offers us all a ray of hope and a chance to get back to living our lives.

“We know from years of research that our lifestyle and health habits influence our levels of immunity and one of the things we can do to maximise our body’s immune response to the vaccine is to do more exercise and get fitter.” We know that 150 minutes per week of brisk walking can cause a 30% improvement in immunity levels. For optimum physical health older adults should aim to be active daily.

Daily exercise 

Sinead Gallagher and Louise Martin, physiotherapists at CUH, say no matter what your age or level of ability, regular movement benefits your physical, social and emotional wellbeing. They advise “no one size fits all and it is important to find activities that suit your health needs, level of ability and confidence, are enjoyable and can be done easily and often at home. There are many key benefits from keeping active. Physical activity boosts circulation, improves flexibility, improves strength and improves balance. As we age our balance reaction times and reflexes get slower. This can make it harder to regain balance, especially when we do something quickly. Our joints and muscles need regular exercise to stay in shape”.

What amount of activity is good?

For optimum physical health older adults should aim to be active daily. Over a week the amount of activity should add up to at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) in bouts of 10 minutes or more.

Light activity 

Even light activity helps.

  • Moving around your home
  • Getting up to make a cup of tea 
  • Walking at a slow pace 

Moderate activity 

Moderate activity is the goal. This level of exercise is where you will get warmer, breathe harder but still be able to carry on a conversation.

  • Brisk walking 
  • Cycling a bike 
  • Dancing 
  • Water aerobics

Vigorous activity 

For those who are already regularly active at a moderate intensity, 75 minutes (1.25 hours) of vigorous-intensity spread throughout the week will reap added benefits. Vigorous activity will cause you to breathe much harder, heartbeat more rapidly and make it more difficult to carry out a conversation.

  • Running 
  • Cycling hills 
  • Hiking

Strength training 

To keep muscles, bones and joints strong you can add two sessions a week of strength training. You can use your own bodyweight or work against resistance.

  • Carrying or moving loads such as groceries 
  • Activities that involve stepping or jumping, like dancing 
  • Chair aerobics 

Balance training 

For older adults, you can improve your balance and coordination, and reduce your risk of having a fall by adding two balance sessions a week.

  • Dance 
  • Yoga 
  • Tai chi 
  • Bowls 

Sedentary activity 

Minimise the amount of time you are sedentary.

  • Break up periods of sitting down 
  • Get up and walk around every 30 minutes if you are watching TV
  • Taking regular walking breaks around the garden 

Eat well 

Diet is important too and dietitians Aisling O’Grady and Helen Cummins recommend eating more fruit and vegetables, protein-rich foods for your muscles like poultry and fish, dairy products with calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones, healthy unsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts, low salt and foods rich in fibre like porridge.

Sleep matters 

Sleep is very important to the functioning of the immune system. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults aged between 18 and 64 need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, while older adults need 7-8 hours and children and adolescents require even more. Dr Hannon advises that you should try to be as consistent as possible – “turning in and waking up at roughly the same time every day is healthier than a chaotic schedule”.

Take care of yourself 

Stress affects our immune system and reduces our ability to fight infection - “I would advise make sure you make time for yourself – read a book, listen to music or whatever you like to do to relax” Covid-19 requires us to stay apart to protect ourselves and this can cause people to feel isolated, stressed and lonely. Over time Dr Hannon says this can affect our brains in a negative way, causing depression.

“It is important to stay connected to family, friends, neighbours or local groups. Schedule daily phone calls with family and friends to talk and keep up with the news. If you do not have a family, friend or neighbour to talk to call services such as Friendly Call Service Ireland offer calls to older adults from trained volunteers. There are many online and virtual cafés or groups that can be accessed to meet up and talk with people over the internet to keep you connected. Organisations such as ALONE have begun the BConnect initiative which provides support and training in the use of technology for older adults to help keep up contact during Covid-19.

Dose up on vitamin D

 Vitamin D is essential to our immune system. In Ireland, in the wintertime 60% of us don’t have enough Vitamin D in our system but thankfully Vitamin D supplements are safe and affordable and available in most pharmacies.

“There is a long road ahead of us. The vaccines are the first step in protecting us from serious covid illness and returning to a life filled with everything and everyone we love”.

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