LEARN: How Ageing Affects Your Immune System
Does it seem like you get sick more than you did when you were younger? When you are under the weather, does it take you longer to feel good again?
Immunity — your body’s defense system — tends to get weaker with age.
“Just as you probably can’t run as fast as you used to in your 20s, your immune system doesn’t work as well as it used to,” says Aaron E. Glatt, MD, chairman of the department of medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospitals.
But fear not — at least not much.
“Compared to many other bodily functions, most people’s immune systems do great at any age,” Glatt says. Most of our immune systems work well enough that our risk for infection and illness isn’t much higher than normal. Even better? No matter how old you are, there’s a lot you can do to stay healthy.
What’s Happening With Your Immune System?
It’s a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs. Together, they defend your body against things that can cause infection, like bacteria.
Why does it ease a bit as you get older?
That’s still a bit of a mystery. “The medical community is still trying to determine exactly how and why immunity decreases with age,” says Kira Rubtsova, Ph.D. Rubtsova is an immunity researcher at National Jewish Health in Denver.
What researchers do know is that most older adults: Don’t respond as well to vaccines.
Your immune system includes T cells, which attack other, illness-causing cells. They’re able to “remember” an invader, then defend against it better later. When you’re older, you make fewer T cells, and most vaccines require new ones to work.
The shingles vaccine. That’s one of the reasons it works so well for the senior set.
Are more likely to get sick: Not only do you have fewer immune cells as you age, but the ones you do have also don’t communicate with each other as well. That means they take longer to react to harmful germs.
Recover from injuries, infection, and illness more slowly: “Your body produces fewer immune cells, including white blood cells,” Rubtsova says. “That can slow down healing.”