The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that eight out of ten deaths from COVID-19 have been among adults age 65 and older. The increased risk is explained primarily due to the immune system changes that occur with age. And those suffering with a chronic illness also puts them at risk for COVID-19.
The old Welsh adage goes, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’, but when the risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19 symptoms increases with age, it takes more than a fruitful diet to stay healthy and guard yourself against the virus.
“It’s imperative that we adopt all the possible measures to help seniors stay healthy and safe,” says Guin Lourens, Head of Nursing at Evergreen Health, a subsidiary of award-winning retirement villages, Evergreen Lifestyle. “Exercising, taking vitamin supplements and keeping in touch with loved ones can all assist in boosting both health and morale.”
Together with her team of staff, Lourens implemented a range of COVID-19 health and safety measures for the elderly living at Evergreen Lifestyle’s 7 villages across South Africa. Here are her expert tips on the easiest ways to stay on top of their personal health regimens and in top spirits.
Physical activity is a wonderful way to boost your immunity. Regular exercise slows down changes that happen to the immune system with ageing and boost white blood cell counts and, as a result, reduce chances of infection.
At Evergreen Lifestyle we encourage residents to take part in 20 to 30 minutes of light aerobic exercise, 3 to 5 days or for 150 minutes a week. Brisk walks, swimming and seated exercises all constitute aerobic exercise options.
2. Healthy communication
Connection with family and friends is a fundamental human need and research shows that it also helps to boost the immune system. A short phone call, a WhatsApp conversation, Zoom video call or looking at pictures of loved ones are all wonderful ways to stay in contact. Nursing teams in retirement villages make telephone calls to residents under their care for daily check-in chats.
Be sure to take health advice only from registered professionals and, if you are taking chronic medication, ask your doctor or pharmacy for an extra month’s supply to keep on hand to reduce trips to the pharmacy.
It’s essential to include multivitamin and zinc supplements to boost your immune system. Zinc, one of the health heavyweights that is often overlooked, is the second most abundant trace element in the body and helps build healthy immune cells needed to help to fight infection. It also reduces fatigue and plays a key role in the renewal of skin cells and keeping hair and nails healthy.
According to the International Zinc Association (IZA), zinc is required by all living things for survival. In fact, Simon Norton of the IZA says, “Zinc is essential for human health as it is in our organs, tissues, bones, fluids, and cells.”
4. Vitamin D
How much time in the sun does it really take to get your body producing vitamin D? 10 – 30 minutes of afternoon sunlight several times a week is all that is needed to get your body producing its own vitamin D. The sunshine vitamin is essential for helping the body absorb calcium and phosphorus which both facilitate normal immune function. But make sure to wear a sunscreen such as SPF 50 which is both light enough to protect your skin from the sun but not so strong that it inhibits absorption of vitamin D.
Many of us grew up thinking that the standard food pyramid was the best guide for how we should eat. We now know that over-emphasis on the intake of grains and starch and under-emphasis on healthy fats, proteins and oils was incorrect. Although starches like bread are a diet staple for many, these types of carbohydrates break down into sugars which are not beneficial for the body.
Aim to include healthy fats from foods like avocados and nuts, as much vegetables like broccoli and spinach as possible and more protein such as beans, chicken and fish than carbohydrates in your weekly diet. Speak to your trusted health professional for immune-boosting dietary advice if you have diabetes, high cholesterol, a heart ailment or a chronic illness.
6. Keep The Brain Active
An array of mind games can also be of great help to keep the elderly engaged such as Scrabble, Sudoku, Carrom, Ludo, Cubissimo, Coggy, Bingo, cards, chess and crossword puzzles. Fun interactive online games and puzzles all keep the brain buzzing. Regular discussion of world news is also exceptionally important.
A key factor in staying healthy is the reduction of stress through activities like mindful meditation. It is simply the practice of sitting quietly without distractions and trying to quiet the mind from its often racing thoughts. An easy way to do this is to sit quietly and breathe in deeply through the nose and out through the mouth repeatedly for 5 to ten minutes, redirecting your thinking to this when a thought comes into your mind.
Just 5 minutes of daily mindful meditation is known to improve sleep and reduce stress, strengthening the immune system along the way.
Working towards building a healthy immune system cannot be done with exercise alone but rather through a variety of small healthy actions every day.