Get the Most From Your Vaccines

It's especially important to keep up with vaccinations when you're older because certain infections and diseases hit seniors more heavily than they do on younger people.

The flu is one example. While normally influenza is not fatal, it does take a number of lives every year, and 90 percent of those it kills are 65 years old or older. Shingles, a painful inflammatory rash, commonly targets people 50 and older. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone aged 60 and older get a shingles vaccine, unless they have certain health conditions or are receiving cancer treatment.

But even if you do get your vaccines, are you fully protected? Unfortunately, vaccines don't protect against disease as well in older people as they do in younger ones. This is because the cells in older immune systems don't work as effectively as they once did. New studies show that the flu vaccine is only about 30 percent to 50 percent as effective in older people as it is in younger adults. That doesn't mean you shouldn't get vaccines, however. Some protection is certainly better than none.

Here are a few more steps to take to ensure that you get the most out of your vaccines:

Stay relaxed. Stress takes a toll on the body in many ways, not the least of which is a lowered response to vaccines. The hardest-hitting stress is bereavement, which can reduce your response to the flu vaccine by 70 percent, according to one study. How to cope? Try grief counseling if you've lost someone important to you.

Keep moving. Exercise keeps your immune system chugging along so it's in prime condition to fight off those pesky winter infections. Your ideal workout plan? At least 20 minutes of sweat-producing activity three times a week (or more if you have it in you). If you aren't up for that much exercise, try the ancient art of tai chi. One study found that  seniors who got the flu shot showed that those who also practiced tai chi, which marries meditation and slow movement, for 20 weeks had a greater immune response than those who got the flu shot but didn't do tai chi.

Eat well. It's as important as ever to have an abundance of antioxidants in your diet. Fruits and vegetables should be a mainstay. Your favorite summer fruits are gone? No worries. Take advantage of fall's bounty-apples, pears, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and other root vegetables are what you should put on your plate now.

Get vaccinated early. If you're a man, try to get the vaccine in the morning. A study showed that men who were vaccinated before 11:00 a.m. produced twice as many flu antibodies as those who waited until the afternoon to get the shot. For women, the time of day didn't seem to matter.




Arthritis Foundation

Centers for Disease Control