The Link Between Diet, Exercise and the Immune System

Our immune systems represent our first line of defence against bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. Hundreds of factors must work together in balance and harmony, and their sophisticated relationships still require research. It’s well known that the effectiveness of our immune systems tends to decrease with age, but researchers also agree that two factors are critically important in supporting a healthy immune system throughout our lives: diet and exercise.

We’ve all heard of white blood cells, but many may not know that these defence cells come in nearly ten different forms. T-cells are a type of white cell which play a central role in immune response, especially the adaptive immunity which the body learns over time. We might expect this power to grow with ‘experience’, but studies have emphasised that aging T-cells can struggle to get enough energy and may be slower to respond to an infection.

Its easy to imagine that our army of white cells has sole responsibility for protecting our bodies from infection, but even these powerful agents can’t function properly without support from complement proteins, which act like a communication network and help white cells to identify their targets. These proteins, in turn, rely on important trace elements in our diet, and on a healthy cardiovascular system to circulate throughout the body.

‘Micronutrient malnutrition,’ a deficiency of these important traces, is common even in affluent countries; often absent from our diet and even from most vitamin tablets, elements like selenium and folic acid often have to be found at the source, ideally in minimally processed and freshly prepared, high-quality seasonal produce, which our digestive system is specialised to make good use of.

When the body does have a good supply of all of the resources it needs to prevent and fight infection, it needs to make those resources available to the immune system. Nutrients must be broken down and circulated around the body before they can be used, and both of these processes rely on good cardiovascular health.

Even gentle exercise substantially increases blood flow and helps the body to oxygenate blood, making more resources available both to the muscles and brain (reducing fatigue and improving mood) and to the cells of the immune system. Organs which help to generate and maintain these defence cells also benefit from this increased flow of energy and nutrients. Exercise and activity has the added benefit of reducing or helping to prevent stress, which can have a substantial effect on immune response.

Signature’s Diet and Exercise Programs

We know that exercise doesn’t have to be demanding to bring substantial benefits, and that regular, comfortable activity in combination with healthy and enticing food enhances our enjoyment of life as powerfully as it improves our physical health. At each of our homes, we have staff dedicated to activity and nutrition to ensure that all of our residents can enjoy these benefits to their fullest.

Throughout each week we offer regular sessions, delivered by experienced instructors, to make comfortable exercise accessible and enjoyable to all. Our extensive activity programmes, ranging from gentle exercise with music, yoga and afternoon walks to ancient Chinese exercises like Tai Chi, aim to make healthy activity as enjoyable and enticing as good eating.

This is no mean feat, as our delicious menus are developed in collaboration with MasterChef 2016’s winner Jane Devonshire, featuring healthy, appetitising dishes expertly prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients by our professional chefs. As well as being beautifully presented and packed with flavour, our meals provide a well-balanced and nutritious diet to all residents, with all dietary requirements catered for and special sensitivity given to personal taste and preference as part of our ethos of person-centred care.

As a comprehensive and holstic approach, our attention to health and wellbeing also extends beyond the central factors of diet and activity, supported by our physiotherapy rooms, spa bathrooms and salons. As research helps us to better understand the effects of age on the immune system, we are able to remain on the leading edge of the curve, applying all that we’ve learned (and continue to learn) to promote and enhance the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of all of our residents.

Read more about Signature’s nutrition workshops here.