I must admit that when I first heard “older people” were at
much greater risk if infected with the novel coronavirus (also known as
COVID-19), my first thought was, “Well, they are not talking about me. I am
only 60, and 60 is the new 40.”
A few days later, I joined the ranks of boomers around the
country receiving calls from their kids telling them to “stay home, not fly, and avoid visitors” because this virus carries greater risk “for the elderly and, Mom, you’re elderly.”
Now, in case you’re wondering, Miriam Webster defines
elderly as “rather old” and especially “being past middle age.” Believe me,
that got my attention and reminded me of the importance of being proactive
about doing what I could do to protect myself against this new health threat. I
hope it has gotten your attention as well.
It made me think about why boomers, who are arguably more
health conscious than previous generations, would be at much greater risk for
complications from this virus (or other viruses for that matter) than our
younger counterparts, independent of any chronic conditions, such as diabetes,
cardiovascular or respiratory diseases.
What is it about being a boomer that in-and-of-itself would
increase our risk?
The answer is that as we get older, our immune system –
which is responsible for fighting off viruses like the coronavirus – does not
usually respond as quickly or as forcefully to pathogens as it used to when we
were younger. This is one of those inescapable facts of aging, much like
getting wrinkles or going gray.
The good news, however, is that there is a lot that we can
do to help our immune systems be their strongest so that they can better
protect us from these foreign invaders. This is especially important when it
comes to the COVID-19 coronavirus since there currently is no vaccine or
treatment for it.
Symptoms have to be managed in a medical setting as best as
possible. So, it basically comes down to the strength of our immune systems to
In other words, and to paraphrase a football phrase, our
best defense when it comes to the coronavirus is a good offense, and our immune
system is that offense.
So, what can we do to help
our immune systems?
Avoid Stressing Over This Pandemic
Try and not stress too much about this pandemic since stress generally
leads to a weakened
In my case, I have decided to limit my watching or reading
the news to twice a day. I am quickly realizing that it is good to be informed.
Information gives me the tools to better
protect my health. But I have to avoid taking in
so much information that I end up worrying myself (literally).
Other options include meditating, taking free online yoga
classes, having a video call with your grandkids and friends, or reading that
book you’ve always wanted to read.
If you’re not allowed to take a walk in the park, I would
suggest going out on your balcony or in the backyard. Either of these will help
you get some sunlight thus allowing your body to produce vitamin D, an immune
booster especially important for us boomers.
And don’t forget to talk about your concerns with friends,
family, or a spiritual advisor. Sharing your worries often makes them less
If You Smoke, Quit
The first indication that smoking makes it harder for your
immune system to fight off the new coronavirus comes from the preliminary morbidity
and mortality data from China, which is where the initial outbreak occurred.
The analysis showed that among Chinese patients diagnosed
with COVID-19-related pneumonia, the odds of disease progression (including
death) were 14 times higher among people
with a history of smoking compared to those who did not smoke.
That should be the reason you’ve been looking or waiting
for to quit.
In addition to its other health benefits, water is an
extremely important nutrient for immune function. Water helps carry
oxygen to the cells in your body, and oxygenated cells are necessary for body systems,
like the immune system, to function properly. Water also helps flush toxins out
of the body and prevents them from causing infections.
Be Aware of the Nutrients That Will Bolster Your Immune System
Two especially important nutrients for boomers are vitamin D and zinc. Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” may play a
role in protecting us from viruses.
A recent study suggested that vitamin D supplements may
provide protection against acute respiratory infections since it appears to
have powerful immune-boosting properties.
Looking specifically at boomers, in another study of
“older” patients, those taking higher doses of vitamin D had about 40 percent
fewer respiratory infections over the course of a year than those taking
standard doses. The best way to get vitamin D is to take a walk in the sun. You
can also get it in vitamin D-fortified foods or through supplementation.
Another important nutrient for boomers to help keep our
immune systems strong is zinc, which is an
essential trace mineral with many health benefits. Unfortunately, zinc levels tend
to be low in older people.
Not having enough of zinc has
been reported to negatively impact immunity and increase the risk of getting
infectious diseases, which disproportionately impact boomers. For example, low
zinc levels are associated with a significantly higher incidence and longer
duration of pneumonia (a key complication of coronavirus).
An easy way to see if you are getting enough zinc is to
visit your local health store, put a tablespoon of zinc (it is usually a
liquid) in your mouth, and swirl it around. If it tastes metallic, you probably
have enough zinc. If you taste nothing, then you are probably zinc deficient
and need to supplement.
You can usually get zinc from such foods as oysters,
poultry, red meat, chia seeds, almonds, broccoli, and oatmeal. However, to the
extent that we may have difficulty absorbing zinc from foods, supplementation
may be more effective.
Discuss Your Medication with Your Doctor
Many boomers may take one or more medications to treat
chronic conditions such as hypertension. Some medications may weaken the immune
system. It’s therefore important to talk to your doctor and inquire what you can
and should be doing to better protect yourself from viruses and other
Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Sleep
Healthcare professionals recommend a minimum of between
seven and eight hours a night. If you’re not getting enough sleep, consult your
doctor or a sleep professional.
Cardiovascular exercise will
increase the oxygen delivery to your cells and improve your immune system. Even
just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise may improve your immune system compared to
otherwise sedentary time.
It’s also important to maintain a healthy weight – getting
in your daily movement and eating a well-balanced, primarily plant-based diet
will help a lot with this.
Remember that your immune system is your first line of defense
– and with viruses, including the coronavirus, it is your only line of defense
– so be sure to keep it as strong as possible to better protect your health.
How concerned are you about the new coronavirus? What are you doing to
protect yourself? Are you taking any specific steps to boost your immune
system? What advice would you give your fellow boomers who may be worried about
this new health risk? Please join the conversation.
article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your
doctor to get specific medical advice for your situation.