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Successful Aging: Lack energy and feel stressed? Read this, please

Dear readers,

Last week, 68-year-old T.B. expressed his frustration at having less energy and that his doctor attributed it to aging. He wanted to know what the problem was. Assuming that the fatigue is not due to a medical problem, which should be checked out by a doctor, it seems timely to examine personal lifestyle.

To address the issue of age and energy, I am referencing a report I used several years ago for a similar question. It’s the Harvard Medical School Special Report on “Boosting Your Energy” that describes a “7-Step Plan to Jump-Start Your Natural Energy.” It is relevant to each of us in our everyday lives and is ageless.

As you read the recommendations, check how many of the steps you currently are implementing. It may help you set a new year’s agenda to tap your natural sources of energy.

1. Set goals: Think about why you want more energy. Is it to feel good? Is it to participate in more activities that you would enjoy? Identify your priorities and list the ones you like to do the most such as traveling, gardening, reading a good book, building, socializing and more. This in itself may serve as a motivator to get you going. The point is to channel your energies into the activities that matter to you.

2. Manage Stress: Stress is considered the most common cause of persistent fatigue. The problem is not stress itself but our response to it. People who seem tired most of the time don’t necessarily have more stress in their lives; they may just be more sensitive to its effects. Some people are able to cope better than others. We do know that the stress response takes a lot of energy. Here are three approaches to manage it: Discuss your feelings with a friend, a support group or therapist. Use relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, mesage or deep breathing. (There is a saying – if you don’t have time to breathe once a day, you need to do it twice a day.) Use a journal and write about your stress as a release and as a way to gain some perspective.

3. Lighten your load: Overworking is one of the main reasons for fatigue. The load may apply to work, family or community. For many, one of the most difficult things is to say “no.” Note saying “no” in the workplace may be difficult. A rule of thumb: If you have all you can handle, don’t take on more commitments. Try to streamline your activities and be as efficient as possible. Also ask for help when needed whether it is extra staff at work or an assistant for the fund raising event you are chairing.

4. Exercise regularly: Just when you feel you don’t have the energy to exercise, it’s the right time to do it. Here’s what regular exercise can do: It helps you get a better night’s sleep; it increases the body’s fuel-making capacity by increasing more energy producing mitochondria in muscle cells; and it creates more capillaries that bring oxygen to cells. Exercise increases deep breathing which increases heart rate bringing more oxygen to circulate in your body. Finally, it releases epinephrine and norepinephrine. In modest amounts, it may be energizing. Final point – you just feel better.

Not everyone loves a gym workout, swimming or Pilates. There is an easy alternative –walking. Studies have shown that brisk walking (three to four miles per hour) for at least a half-hour, five times a week has almost the same health benefits as more vigorous exercise. In addition to being energizing, research indicates that walking lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and perhaps other diseases. Exercise also has a positive effect on mental health. As stamina increases from walking, it is easier to add more physical activities such as an exercise class or biking.

It’s time for your self-assessment on the first four natural energy boosters: Setting goals, lighten your load, manage stress and exercise. Here’s the scale: 3=doing a great job; 2= some improvement needed and 1=time to make some changes.

Next week we’ll address the remaining three.

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