"I've noticed that I get sick more often now that I'm older and that it takes longer for me to get better. What can I do to stay healthier?"

There are four things you can do to stay healthier, no matter what your age:

  • Update your vaccines.
  • Get an influenza (flu) shot.
  • Take vitamins.
  • Exercise.

Of course, we can't escape getting sick completely. But you can do some simple things—like keeping  your vaccines and flu shot up to date or taking vitamins and walking—that can help. As we get older, our bodies get slower at detecting and fighting infection. We get sicker faster, and getting better takes longer. So, avoiding getting sick is the key.

Update your vaccines

The first step to preventing some illnesses is to update your vaccines and to get the pneumonia vaccine, which lasts for at least 10 years. You need to get revaccinated for childhood diseases because your immune cells forget the vaccines (even if you still remember the shot). Without these updates, you are 10 times more likely to get a childhood disease again. Your doctor can help you keep your vaccines up to date, so talk about it during your next visit.

Get a flu shot

Get a flu shot every year. If you come down with the flu, expect three to five days of high fever, weakness and bed rest. Babies, the very old and those with long-term diseases take longer to get better from the flu. Once again, avoiding getting sick is the key. Get a shot every fall. You need to get a new flu shot every year because different kinds of flu spread each year.

Take vitamins, minerals and trace elements

As you age, you are more likely to have problems because you aren't getting enough vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Not getting enough vitamins can make you tired and weak. If your doctor is treating you for being tired or weak and you don't notice an improvement, you might not be getting enough vitamins, such as vitamin A, which can cause night blindness, or potassium (a mineral) which causes weakness. What you eat, medicines you take or long-term illnesses you have can cause your body to not get the vitamins it needs to be healthy.

The bottom line? Take vitamins, minerals and trace elements, especially if you have a long-term disease or little variety in what you eat.  If you have symptoms that do not improve with standard treatment, see your doctor.

Get exercise to boost your immune system

Being healthy means being able to do the things you need to do every day. Studies show that when you're at a healthy weight, you have more energy. Studies also show that if you spend most of your time sitting, you can improve your health with moderate regular activity, such as walking daily. You can get even healthier by increasing your physical activity beyond that. And studies show that you can improve your health at any age by getting more active. Any form of activity counts—even housework.

Prevention is key

Remember, prevention plays a large part in your health. Whenever we head into cold and flu season, the small steps you take in advance can pay off later. Ask your doctor for information about more things you can do to stay healthy.

Published on Nov. 15, 2012; updated on May 5, 2014.

Dr. Robert Herr

Dr. Robert Herr, M.D., M.B.A., practiced internal medicine and emergency medicine for more than 20 years prior to serving as a medical director at Regence. Dr. Herr frequently lectures and writes about health care issues affecting seniors.