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Find your get-up-and-go

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March 9th, 2017
Woman vacuuming for exercise.

Woman vacuuming for exercise.

Everyone wants energy so they can do the things they want to do. It is well known that exercise can confer this needed energy and is good for your health in practically every way.

But can you keep your energy up if you can’t exercise for a few days, or just don’t feel like it? 

Fuel up

“You need proper nutrients to have energy to function,” says George Hennawi, M.D., medical director of the Center for Successful Aging at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore, Md. “Whole-grain carbohydrates act as fuel for your body and mind and they have a milder impact on blood sugar than processed carbohydrates. That allows you to have more stamina throughout your day.” 

Many seniors adhere to low-fat diets in the interest of heart health, but you shouldn’t entirely avoid fats. “Vegetable-based fats, such as olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish, are associated with better memory and physical energy,” Hennawi says. 

Be sure to drink plenty of liquids with your meals. “Even slight dehydration can lead to low blood pressure and fatigue,” Hennawi says. “As we age, our kidneys become less efficient and fail to conserve fluids when necessary. Your body does not have sufficient defense mechanisms to compensate for dehydration.” 

Caffeinated beverages may seem like a quick fix, and although some study results suggest it can be beneficial, older adults need to practice moderation. “Some data associate caffeine with better cognitive and physical functioning, which of course is associated with better energy,” Hennawi says. “Keep in mind, however, that caffeine can increase the frequency of urination, interfere with a good night’s rest, and may trigger heart rhythm disturbances in some people. Your doctor can advise you about whether caffeine is safe based on your individual health.”

Recharge

Sleep is essential for vitality, but insomnia is a common problem among seniors. “There can be many causes for insomnia,” says Matt Narrett, M.D., chief medical officer for Erickson Living. “Along with sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome, the presence of certain medical conditions such as dementia, lung disease, depression, and chronic pain have been shown to interfere with a good night’s rest. A number of prescribed medicines, including diuretics, steroids, and over-the-counter medicines such as decongestants can also be detrimental to your sleep.” 

Changing your daily routine can help. “Try avoiding naps, and get up at the same time every day,” Narrett says. “Create a slumber-friendly environment by making your bedroom quiet, free of light, and temperate—neither too hot nor cold. Establishing a relaxing evening ritual is also helpful.”

Over-the-counter medicines for sleep, however, are dangerous for seniors. “Many contain diphenhydramine, which can be responsible for confusion, blurred vision, constipation, and difficulty urinating, along with other side effects,” Narrett warns.  “Be sure to discuss insomnia with your doctor.”

Attend to your health

Your body diverts a significant amount of your excess energy to deal with chronic health problems. “Practically any chronic condition can sap some of your energy, especially if it is not well-managed,” Hennawi says. “Anemia and hypothyroidism in particular have been associated with fatigue.” 

In addition, having an acute illness, although short-lived, can leave you feeling exhausted for a long time after it’s resolved.  Keeping up with vaccines for flu, pneumonia, and shingles can reduce your risk of contracting some common culprits, and people who practice frequent and thorough handwashing all year long have been found to have significantly fewer bouts of viral illness.  

Feeling tired is not a part of normal aging, so see your doctor regularly to keep on top of chronic conditions and preventive health care.

Stimulate your mind

According to Greg Geronemus, co-CEO of smarTours, a guided tour company that caters to seniors, one way to feel energized is to travel. “My clients are energized by seeing the world. If the past year was any indicator, 2017 will again be the year of the bucket-list travel for seniors.”

If you choose to stay local, “keep your brain active by picking up old hobbies, or trying new hobbies,” Hennawi suggests. “Seniors who are mentally active naturally tend to become more physically active, and thus feel more alert. Many hobbies require some form of movement.”

Spending time with other people is very important. “In the same way food nourishes your body, being socially active nourishes your soul,” Hennawi says.

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