As men age, many factors affect their energy levels. Muscle mass naturally declines, which makes it harder to stay active. Diet may become less healthy, and sleep more erratic.
The body also becomes less efficient at producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy-carrying molecules found in all living cells. And don't forget the stress of enduring a two-plus-year pandemic.
"Add it all up, and it's no surprise that you may feel less energetic at times," says Dr. Anthony Komaroff, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
The good news is that the causes of your energy debts are also the solutions for refueling. Here's a look at how better managing diet, exercise, sleep, and stress can help refuel your depleted energy tank.
Increasing your intake of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids and protein can help boost ATP and muscle mass, according to Dr. Komaroff.
Choose lean meats like chicken and turkey, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, and nuts. Also, eating a small meal or snack every few hours is better than having three large meals a day. "Your brain has very few energy reserves of its own and needs a steady supply of nutrients," says Dr. Komaroff.
Fatigue also is a sign of dehydration. Although individual needs vary, men should aim for approximately 15 cups (about 3.7 liters) of fluids per day from drinks and foods. Water and beverages like coffee and tea are ideal. Some fruits and vegetables are almost 90% water or higher and provide a good source of fluids. Examples include cucumbers, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, celery, strawberries, peaches, oranges, and melons like watermelon and cantaloupe.
What you don't eat is equally important. For instance, cut back on foods with a high glycemic index. These foods, most of which are high in simple carbohydrates, quickly raise blood sugar levels and provide a jolt of energy. But this sudden spike often leads to a sharp drop in blood sugar levels, the so-called sugar crash, which can trigger fatigue.
WHEN DOES LOW ENERGY BECOME A PROBLEM?
See your doctor if you experience prolonged bouts of low energy or if lack of energy begins to affect your daily life. This could be a red flag for a serious medical condition, such as heart disease, cancer, anemia (a deficiency of red blood cells), or an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis.
Exercise increases energy levels in several ways. "It not only helps add muscle mass but also spurs your body to produce more ATP in your cells," says Dr. Komaroff. Exercise also boosts energy-promoting neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which provide that mental lift you feel after a workout.
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. Of course, it can be a challenge to exercise when energy levels are already low, so start small. Some research suggests that just 20 minutes of low-to-moderate aerobic activity, three days a week, can help energize you.
It doesn't really matter what kind of exercise you do. Studies have found that non-aerobic exercises like strength training can have the same energy-boosting effect as aerobic activities.
Nothing rejuvenates the body and mind more than a good night's rest. However, this is often difficult for older adults, who may have trouble falling or staying asleep.
It can help to practice good sleep hygiene. For example, go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends, to keep your sleep/wake cycle synchronized with your circadian rhythms. Establish a bedtime ritual in which you give yourself an hour before sleep to bathe, brush your teeth, and relax. Use the bed only for sleeping or sex (no TV or electronic devices). Keep your bedroom dark and cool.
Afternoon naps can help with sleep quality, but keep them to 20 to 30 minutes, and don't nap within several hours of your normal bedtime, as this can disrupt your sleep cycle. "If you still have problems sleeping through the night, see your doctor," says Dr. Komaroff.
Regular exercise can help manage stress, but you can also explore mind-body practices that emphasize calming breath control and mindfulness, such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. Also, alleviate stress with diversions, like taking up a new hobby. Stress that affects your sleep or appetite could be related to anxiety or depression and may require professional therapy.
This article was originally published by Harvard Men's Health Watch