Fitness Magazine

Your Immune System and Aging (and Yoga)

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

Your Immune System and Aging (and Yoga)

Red Rocks by Melina Meza

Even though I had a flu shot this year, I still managed to come down with bronchitis about two weeks ago (I’ve tended to get that since I was young). The fever and reduced ability to breathe was really debilitating. And here I am, almost two full weeks later, almost but not quite feeling back to normal. At least I’m back to going for walks and practicing gentle yoga again! 

Yes, as we age, our immune systems are slower to respond in general, which increases our risk of getting sick (whether from a common cold or a more serious infection) and slows healing from illnesses and from injuries. In general, you can bolster your immune system by practicing active yoga poses to foster physical and stress hardiness, and by practicing restorative poses, meditation, breath work, and conscious relaxation to spend more time in the Rest and Digest state (which turns on your immune system). 

Immune Cells. Because damaged or aging immune cells are not replaced as you age, you have fewer immune cells as you get older. This slows healing from both illness and injuries You can use yoga to support the healing process by practicing gentle asanas to improve circulation to healing areas and by practicing your favorite types of conscious relaxation to spend more time in the Rest and Digest state.   

Autoimmune Disorders. Although autoimmune disorders occur in younger people, the frequency of autoimmune disorders (diseases in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissues) increases with age. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. If your condition allows it, you may be able to use gentle and restorative asana practices along with quieting pranayama and meditation to support your immune system. 

Cancer. As you age, your immune system's ability to detect and correct cell defects is reduced, resulting in an increase in frequency of cancer. Although yoga can’t treat cancer, you can use yoga for palliative care during treatment and recovery, and to bolster your immune system during the entire process. 
Chronic Inflammation. As we age our bodies are less able to disarm the inflammatory process, which can lead to chronic inflammation. A healthy immune system uses inflammation your advantage during acute illness or injury, but chronic inflammation is linked to many serious illnesses, such autoimmune diseases and heart disease. To reduce inflammation or prevent chronic inflammation from recurring, use your yoga practice to manage your stress levels and foster overall good health. See Chronic Inflammation and Yoga: Combating the Fiery Killer.
Chronic Stress and Immune System. While your immune system is initially stronger during periods of acute stress, it starts functioning less well if the stress is ongoing. This increases your risk of contracting serious infections and, as some evidence suggests, autoimmune diseases. Furthermore, chronic stress alone can cause life-threatening conditions from heart disease to high blood pressure. See Stress Management Techniques for When You're Stressed for information about using yoga to reduce chronic stress in general, which can prevent stress-related diseases.
For tips about how to support your immune system, see Techniques for Supporting Your Immune System. Take good care of yourself, everyone!
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