Have you ever wondered why we seem more prone to illness during the winter months than during the summer months? Researchers at Cambridge University in England did, and they recently discovered that the strength of our immune systems varies according to the seasons. It seems that about 25% of our genes are less active in winter — when the days are shorter — and many of those genes are tied to our immune systems.
So while it would seem that we are all more prone to illness in the dark days of winter, it’s more important that seniors do what they can to avoid the more serious maladies — or work to minimize their severity. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 80% and 90% of flu-related deaths are in Americans 65 years and older. That same age group accounts for 50% to 70% of hospitalizations related to the flu. Other concerns are pneumonia, which the CDC said kills about 18,000 adults age 65 and older every year, and of course, the common cold.
Fortunately, keeping yourself safe from these diseases — in the winter or any time of the year — is a relatively easy affair. To begin, work on establishing good hygiene habits. Get into the habit of washing your hands regularly, if you don’t already. Many diseases are spread by touching others or touching contaminated items. Wash your hands after touching others — especially those who are sick — touching animals, using the bathroom or preparing and eating food. And don’t skimp — the CDC recommends lathering and scrubbing your hands for a full 20 seconds before rinsing in clean water and drying with a clean towel. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
Next, focus on a healthy diet — one that will help support your immune system. The Cleveland Clinic recommends eating foods high in vitamins C, such as citrus fruits, leafy vegetables, strawberries, and papaya. Other key vitamins include E (peanuts, hazelnuts, and sunflower seeds), B6 (bananas, chicken breast, and chickpeas), A (carrots, sweet potatoes and squash) and D (fatty fish like salmon and fortified foods like milk and cereal). Also, consider foods high in folate/folic acid and iron. According to the Cleveland Clinic, selenium — which is found in a variety of foods like garlic, broccoli, and tuna — it is also important to a healthy immune system, as is the zinc you consume when eating oysters, crab, and lean meats.
Other common-sense advice for avoiding illness includes getting plenty of rest and avoiding stress, as well as avoiding large groups of people (who could transmit disease) and those people you already know to be sick.
Finally, talk to your doctor about vaccines — which are arguably the best approach to avoiding serious diseases in the first place. According to the Mayo Clinic, a flu shot is available this season that can protect you against three strains of influenza expected to be prevalent in 2015-16. The organization said there’s also a vaccine available that can protect you against four strains of the flu as well as a high-dose vaccine especially for those age 65 and older.
To avoid pneumonia, the CDC said there are two kinds of vaccines that can prevent pneumococcal disease, which includes pneumonia. The first — called PCV13 — protects against pneumonia as well as 13 different strains of pneumococcus bacteria. The second — called PPSV23 — protects against another 23 strains. Both provide protection against meningitis and bacteremia, which is a disease of the bloodstream. According to the CDC, the PPSV23 vaccine should be administered a year after the PCV13 vaccine.
As always, discuss the need for any vaccine — and its risks — with your doctor or healthcare professional. This is true for vitamin supplements, as well.
Note: Motivo, makers of the Tour, does not provide medical advice. The information on this blog and site is general information for educational purposes only. Please consult your physician for specific information about influenza, pneumonia and other serious illnesses.