Energy After 50: How To Boost Your Levels With Age
Are you over 50 and finding that you don’t have the energy you once did? While the hormones that gave you strength and pep in your youth and kept the extra pounds off are waning, that doesn’t mean you can’t fight back. Your lack of energy may be a perception that can be remedied. Taking steps to improve your health now can result in a longer, healthier, and happier life down the road.
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What Happens As We Age?
Estrogen precipitously drops at menopause, and testosterone begins a slow decline after age 30. Testosterone, an androgen, helps maintain muscle mass and bone density. Other anabolic hormones, such as growth hormones and insulin-like growth factor, also decline with age, causing decreases in muscle fibers and muscle mass.
Injuries are also more common with aging, due to balance problems and decreased strength. An injury can also sideline you from physical activities you enjoy, leading to further muscle and nerve function declines.
However, many experts believe it is less physical activity and aging that causes increased fatigue and decreased muscle strength. This is welcome news, because it means you can take control and improve your energy levels.
Cognitive changes associated with aging include a decrease in brain volume and blood flow. Recall of recent events and the ability to process new information may decline, but procedural and long-term memory usually stay stable or may even improve.
Age-related changes in the cardiovascular and respiratory systems may mean it takes less activity to cause shortness of breath. As you have these changes, you may notice fatigue more quickly with exercise.
Declines in growth hormone and melatonin can also impact deep sleep, making it less restful. This can set up a cycle—less restful sleep leads to more fatigue, which decreases your desire to exercise.
Changes in the gastrointestinal tract and immune system can increase your risk of infections. Older adults may not eat as healthily as they did when preparing meals for a family. Whether it is a lack of desire, appetite, or energy, choosing highly processed fast food instead of home-cooked, nutritious meals can increase fatigue.
While these changes and many more occur, there are steps you can take to increase your energy and preserve your brain, muscle, and heart function longer. Many people find it hard to get started, but once they develop new habits and enjoy their newfound energy, they want to continue building healthier habits.
Are you ready to restore the pep and vigor you had a decade ago? It is certainly possible. All it takes is a minor investment—in you!
How To Boost Your Energy
If you are ready to invest in yourself by making simple behavioral and dietary changes, you can reap rewards that may last a lifetime. Spend some time learning about nutrition and supplements and how they may supplement your exercise and nutrition plans.
Take a minute to think about what you’ve eaten for the last three days. Write it down if you can. What would an outside observer say about your food choices?
Eating the right foods gives your body the nutrients it needs and can keep you from becoming overweight or obese. Unfortunately, much of our diet is made up of ultra-processed, hyper-palatable foods. Manufacturers process the food, draining it of nutrients, and then add back chemicals to make the food look and taste better.
Your body is designed to process mostly whole foods. Whole foods are:
- Minimally processed
- Contain no artificial ingredients
- Closer to their natural state
Examples of whole foods include:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
Most foods you make in your home are minimally processed whole foods. Eating whole foods provides nutrients and vitamins without excess calories. If you are trying to lose some excess pounds, a whole food diet can support your other weight loss efforts. You will also notice a boost in energy when your body gets the nutrients it needs to function efficiently and loses the excess pounds weighing it down.
Engaging in physical activity is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your overall health and boost your energy levels. It can help delay, prevent, or manage many of the chronic diseases associated with aging.
Making a conscious effort to move your body during the day can really add up. Unfortunately, 29.4% of women and 25.5% of men over 50 years old are classified as inactive, defined as only moving around enough for daily tasks. You don’t want to be in that group!
Here are some tips to get you started:
- Begin slowly. Increasing your activity level too quickly can lead to fatigue and injury.Slow and steady increases in exercise are more sustainable and safer.
- Add resistance exercise. Resistance exercise increases strength and muscle mass, which increases calorie burn and reduces the risk of injuries. You don’t need fancy gym equipment. Lift household items throughout the day. Do bodyweight exercises (there are tons of videos on YouTube to show you how). Walk up the stairs or an incline.
- Just do one more. No matter how you choose to increase your activity level, just do one more thing. Exercise one more minute each day. Do one more exercise each day, and so on.
- Accountability is important. Join a club, whether it is a formal club like your local YMCA or an informal club made up of a few friends that plan to walk together each morning, to help keep you motivated.
- Add aerobic exercise. Experts recommend adults do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise throughout the week. Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and lung muscles. Doing so will increase your endurance and decrease your fatigue.
- Find something you enjoy. It is completely unrealistic to ask yourself to do something that you don’t enjoy doing, day in and day out. Instead, choose an activity you enjoy that involves movement. Even pacing across the room while watching a movie is so much healthier than watching that same movie from the couch with a bag of chips.
When middle-aged adults exercise, they have a significantly lower risk of developing chronic disease, even decades later.
You may have heard people say, “Your mind is a muscle. If you don’t use it, you will lose it.’ While the sentiment may be true, your mind is not a muscle. Defining it as a complex set of neural circuits is more accurate, but still doesn’t even begin to describe the amazing complexity of the human brain.
The “use it or lose it” part of the saying is true. Your brain likes to maximize its efficiency and minimize its energy use, just like most living things. Your brain prefers that you do the same activities, talk about the same topics, and follow the same routine every day.
To keep the connections in your brain working well, you need to move it out of its comfort zone. Mental stimulation is necessary to keep your mind fresh and invigorated.
- Pick any activity you do today and do it differently. Drive a different way to run errands. Load the dishwasher from bottom to top instead of top to bottom. Read an article starting with the last paragraph and working your way up.
- Solve puzzles or play word games.
- Take an adult education class. Many times, they are free for seniors.
- Take up a new hobby. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try but never had the time?
- Learn a new language.
- Stay social. Schedule social events in your calendar, whether you prefer to hang out with a couple of friends or larger groups.
- Meditate. It seems counterintuitive, but meditation engages your brain in a different way than in your everyday life.
- Tell stories. Future generations will welcome an understanding and an accounting of their family history. Record your stories or write them down to share in the future.
- Read books from a new genre. Whether you randomly pick up a book at the library or consciously choose a book from another genre, your brain will enjoy the change in pace.
Spend time outdoors. Fresh air and sunlight improve your mood and your health. Take a break from the harmful effects of light from screens. Sitting all day is hard on your posture, weakens muscles, tightens your hip flexors, and contributes to being overweight or obese.
When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes cholecalciferol, which is another name for vitamin D3. Depending on the population, between 40% and 60% of Americans are vitamin D deficient.
The following conditions increase your risk for vitamin D deficiency:
- Polluted environment
- Staying indoors
- Having darker pigmented skin
- Increasing age
- Living in northern latitudes
- Consuming high fructose corn syrup
- Having obesity
It is hard to get enough vitamin D3, an important vitamin for bone and immune health, from your diet alone. Vitamin D3 supplements can help replenish your vitamin D levels, especially in the winter or for people who can’t spend enough time outdoors.
Sunlight and nature are also important for mental health. Spending time outdoors relieves stress and lowers cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.”
Short-term forest bathing reduces oxidative stress on your cells, lowers inflammation and cortisol levels, gives you more energy, and lowers stress.
A restful night’s sleep is important for everyone. Try to get around 8 hours of sleep each night. Lack of sleep contributes to depression and anxiety. Anxiety and depression contribute to poor sleep.
If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to have serious health problems that make you tired and low on energy, like:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
Many people think sleep is a time when your brain function slows down. This is not the case. Your brain is active all night, clearing harmful toxins from your brain. The glymphatic system is your brain’s self-cleaning machine. It is 10 times more active at night than during the day.
Sleep deprivation slows your ability to process information and retain it in memory.
Tips for better sleep:
- Set a schedule and stick to it every day. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to help your body set a circadian rhythm.
- Establish a pre-bedtime routine that tells your body it is time to wind down for the night.
- Limit caffeinated beverages to the morning only.
- Try to finish all meals and snacks at least two hours before bedtime.
- Avoid daytime naps. They may contribute to nighttime awakening and difficulty falling asleep.
- Use your bed for sleep and sex only. If you can’t sleep, get up and sit in a darkened room for a few minutes to relax.
- Turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime.
- Nicotine, alcohol, and some medications may interfere with sleep. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if your medications are a problem.
- Exercise earlier in the day, especially if it keeps you awake.
- Keep your room at a comfortable temperature.
Your immune system protects you from bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other pathogens. It takes a lot of energy to mount a defense against infection, day in and day out. Most of the proteins that control how immune cells work require vitamins and minerals as cofactors to make important chemical reactions occur. Key micronutrients that support the immune system include:
- Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 plays a key role in immune function. It is a cofactor for methionine synthase, an enzyme that helps make DNA in all cells, including immune cells. Between 6% and 23% of Americans are vitamin B12 deficient. Symptoms of low vitamin B12 include fatigue, muscle weakness, trouble with balance, and others. Replenishing vitamin B12 can restore your energy.
- Zinc: Zinc is a mineral that affects multiple aspects of the immune system. Cells in both the adaptive and innate immune systems require zinc for proper function. Lack of zinc increases oxidative stress and inflammation, which contributes to chronic disease.
- Vitamin D: When people think of vitamin D, they commonly think of bone health, but vitamin D is equally important for immune function. It helps modulate adaptive and immune responses. Lack of vitamin D is associated with an increased risk of autoimmune diseases and increased susceptibility to infection.
- Vitamin C: When your body is under stress from an infection, it produces free radicals, which are unpaired electrons that can bind to structures in the cell, causing damage. Vitamin C helps modulate the inflammatory process.
Talk To A Doctor
Before making significant changes in your lifestyle or diet, make an appointment for a physical exam. While it is very likely that simple lifestyle changes will improve your energy levels, it is a good idea to make sure you don’t have any treatable medical conditions such as thyroid disease that can cause fatigue and low energy. Verify whether you are up to date on all the recommended screening exams for your age and sex. Some medications have fatigue as a side effect. Ask your doctor if there are alternative medications that may work as well without causing fatigue.