Fatigue can happen to anyone, and is not necessarily an inevitable part of getting older.
If you were a Victorian suffering from fatigue, one trendy option for treatment came by means of Isaac Pulvermacher's famous “hydro-electric belt." Introduced at the London World’s Fair in 1851, the belt was comprised of small batteries with electrodes which sent a bit of electric current through the flesh. Good times! The contraption also promised relief from "headache, rheumatism, dyspepsia, heart palpitations, dropsy,and piles ... and general nervous complaints," notes the BBC. And it was shockingly popular, so to speak.
But could a magical electric belt really cure fatigue? (Not to mention dropsy and dyspepsia.) Probably not, but there are a number of things we can do to help quell periods of waning pep.Defined by the U.S. National Library of Medicine as a "feeling of weariness, tiredness, or lack of energy," fatigue seems to be a defining trait of the modern era. "Many older adults feel fatigued," writes Michele Lent Hirsch in Consumer Reports. To which I would add, many adults of all ages.
I remember my first bouts with fatigue in my 20s – "please tell me I have anemia," I recall pleading with my doctor, hoping that a simple change in diet could fix me. With bloodwork revealing no cause of fatigue – and not suffering from depression or other obvious duress – I learned first-hand that older adults are not the exclusive domain of unexplained fatigue.
And now, interestingly, experts are starting to rethink the idea that fatigue is in fact an expected part of aging at all.
Of blaming fatigue on aging, Basil Eldadah, M.D., Ph.D., from the National Institute on Aging, told Consumer Reports, “I don’t think that’s an adequate explanation." As scientists develop a better understanding of what aging is, it has become clear that it’s no longer accurate to attribute things like fatigue to age alone, explains Hirsch.
So to what do we owe these feeling of weariness, tiredness, and lack of energy?
I chalked up my early adventures in fatigue to having been a California girl newly acclimating to New York City and its gift of sensory overload – but anemia was a reasonable guess. And aside from anemia, there are numerous conditions for which fatigue is a symptom, including heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, hypothyroidism, adrenal insufficiency, kidney disease, liver disease, bacterial or viral infections, rheumatological conditions, and neurological conditions.
Fatigue can come from depression, and has been linked to anxiety, stress, grief, and boredom. Medications like antihistamines, beta blockers, and benzodiazepines can trigger fatigue. And then there is deconditioning, which Hirsch
describes as being out of shape, which can result in becoming fatigued more easily.
If fatigue is caused be a serious health condition, then obviously that needs to be addressed – and fatigue is surely something to bring up with your healthcare provider. But there are other causes of fatigue that can be tamed by lifestyle changes. Consider trying any of the following:
1. Increase activityFor fatigue caused by inactivity and/or deconditioning, bumping up the movement can help a lot. You don't have to go out and try to run a marathon; take it easy, just focus on getting up more, walking, gardening, taking the stairs, et cetera.
2. Watch what you eat and drinkLimiting caffeine, alcohol, and high-sugar and fried foods can also help, "as can making sure you stay hydrated throughout the day," says Hirsch.
3. Try fatigue-fighting snacksIf you're going to skip the afternoon-slump coffee and treat, as recommended above, you can replace them with foods known for their energy boosts. Try any of these: 8 foods to fight fatigue.
4. Tackle boredomNot everyone can entertain themselves all day. If you're bored, it can add to fatigue, which makes it harder to fight the boredom, which makes one feel more fatigued – you see where this is going. To fight boredom, tap into your interests and explore the options: Find a new hobby or resume an old one, join or start a group or club, get involved in your community, become a volunteer, there are a lot of ways to break out of the boredom rut.
5. Improve your sleepWhile fatigue isn't always caused by too little sleep, improved sleep duration and quality for those who struggle is a good place to start. Which of course is way easier said than done, but we have loads of advice on the topic, which you can see in the related stories below.
And if all else fails, you can always try a belt of batteries to give you a jolt ... it might even fix your dropsy and dyspepsia.
Read more at Consumer Reports.