January 2021: Immunosenescence


By Clive Lindley-Jones | January 6, 2021 9:36 pm

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.

But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life, but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it”.


Happy New Year!

Already the New Year is steaming ahead. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca reminds us, from two millennia back, above, to know how to use our life in good times and bad. 

At this Covid time, we are put on our mettle to find a way through. For some, these are the end times, for others, they are more than just trying, and for others, they are an opportunity, wrapped up in a miserable pandemic lockdown, that seems never-ending. 

However, everything changes and this too will pass. In the meantime, it shows us how we can adjust to new eventualities. This adaptation is something we will have to do far more as the climate emergency moves forward in our consciousness, becoming the existential, era-defining event it already is. 

Crisis and Opportunity

Getting stronger, handling things better, is good practice for the times of change to come. Suppose we persevere, as polymath Noam Chomsky and economist Robert Pollin show in their new book, Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal. In that case, these times could be the ultimate levelling up, building back better, and changing the world for the better.    

Every year, many of us thankfully turn the page on the last year and, with hope springing eternally, set some new resolutions for the coming year. 

Of course, the idea of a year itself, is just a useful human construct, to hang our wishes for a better life, particularly concerning the one passed. 

It should not be too difficult to dream a better year than 2020 for most of us! 

Immunity and Aging

For some it is our mental health we are most concerned about.  For others, it is our physical health, or our relationships, or our career (or now, lack of one), that may be the focus of our determination to do better this year than last. 

Whatever your resolve focuses on, or even if you do not go in for resolutions, you might wish to consider some wise words from Dr Niharitka Duggal, Lecturer in Immunity and Ageing at Birmingham University’s Institute of Inflammation and Ageing. I caught her on Radio 4’s excellent Woman’s Hour after Christmas.

As Osteopaths, we often see the connection between a patient’s physical and mental strength and fitness, and the immune system’s ability to fight infection.


Dr Duggal’s work focused on The Remodelling of the immune system with age, known as immunosenescence. That is, the significant contributor to poor health in older adults, played by skeletal muscle.  As she says:

“What is seldom considered when examining the immune response of an aged individual is that the immune system is profoundly influenced by physical activity.

Habitual physical activity levels decline with age, with significant consequences for muscle mass and function. Skeletal muscle is a major immune regulatory organ and generates a range of proteins, termed myokines, which have anti-inflammatory and immunoprotective effects.”

At this time, significantly, anything we can do to reduce our chronic inflammation, benefit our mental and physical health, calm us down, and at the same time, increase our immunity, sounds good.  I have written elsewhere about the importance of discouraging chronic inflammation.

Dr Duggal’s work helps confirm and support a general rise in evidence for the need for us all, young or old, to keep moving with any physical activity we can do, and learn to enjoy. 

Simple Advice for Wellness

For some, even in regular times, health advice can seem complicated and contradictory. There is a very simple take-home for improving our mental and physical health and enhancing our immunity in all sorts of ways. 

It comes down to the same old stuff:

  • get connected to others,
  • moving every day,
  • eating more whole foods and plants and fewer animal foods. 

As I wrote, back in March 2020, there is another vital part of health, the life saving nature of friendship.

While we all know the health risks of obesity, fewer, perhaps until now, understand that loneliness’s ill effects are even more significant.  

None of these things is easy to overcome any time, least of all at a time of lockdown. But perhaps the start of a new year is an excellent place to set our goals to find good allies and strategies to change any of these things. 

Who knows, by the summer things may have improved on a whole lot of fronts!

Strategy, Strategy, Strategy…

If Psychologist Carl R. Rogers was right, our first job in the journey of change is to accept, where and who, we are, and then take action.   

But, before you take action, consider your strategy! 

In a lockdown, perhaps more than at other freer times, we need to find new ways to move and connect, even if it means doing a yoga class online or speaking to friends over the fence, or Zoom. We all have to show up, step up and find ways around these hard times to support each other and nourish our best self.

Not sure how to start? Here is a new science-based strategy, if health and weight loss is part of your resolution. In the spring, I was shocked to find that I put on a few kilos over the first lockdown despite a good diet. 

Dr Rangan Chatterjee is a good and sound guide to have by your side. You may want to check out his latest book – Feel Great Lose Weight: Long term, simple habits for lasting and sustainable weight loss. 

As we go into another challenging time, perhaps we can get better at handling things this year than last, and when we do come out of it all, we will be fitter and ready to return to the new life beyond this current problematic time.