As more Americans prepare for their COVID vaccinations, something that is not often considered but could help support vaccine effectiveness is good nutrition and physical activity. Here are several important reasons to prioritize healthy habits:
1) Nutrition is key for immune health. Proper nutrition supports the body’s ability to respond to an immune challenge – whether it is exposure to a new virus or a new vaccine. A variety of vitamins and minerals impact the condition and growth of immune cells including vitamin C, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin E. Poor nutrition has been recognized as a potential factor impacting the gradual deterioration of our immune system as we age, emphasizing the need to prioritize healthy eating throughout life.1
2) Exercise improves immune function. Physical activity can improve overall health, and research shows that it can have a positive impact on our immunity as well. Regular exercise has been linked to improved vaccination response in older adults, and acute bouts of exercise seem to enhance the body's immune response to vaccines.2
3) Malnutrition affects many and may impact vaccine response. Malnutrition can be invisible to the eye. It occurs when the body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs and can happen in both underweight and overweight individuals. Up to 1 in 2 older adults is either at risk of malnutrition or is malnourished,3 and vaccines may be less effective in stimulating an immune response in those who are undernourished.4 Nutrient deficiencies can lead to a weakened immune system and greater susceptibility to infection.5 Some experts propose that correcting nutritional deficiencies may attenuate the age-related changes to the immune system which contribute to the increased susceptibility and worse outcome observed in elderly COVID-19 patients.6
How to Support Good Health
Prioritizing healthy food and beverages is important, and it is never too late to make dietary improvements, which can have a positive impact on overall and immune health. Following a balanced diet with fruit, vegetables, lean meats, dairy and healthy fats can help you get key nutrients to support immune health, including:
For people with poor food intake or those who could benefit from nutrition support, nutritional supplements can provide protein, vitamins and minerals that help maintain immune health.
In addition to good nutrition, physical activity is an important contributor to overall health and immune system support. Engaging in regular exercise, including resistance training, can also help maintain muscles and strength. Always speak with your healthcare professional to help find exercises that are right for you and your family such as:
Simple steps like prioritizing good nutrition and engaging in more physical activity can go a long way in promoting health and may aid in how Americans respond to vaccines, too.
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