It’s normal to feel tired during the day now and then—especially as you get older. But no matter your age, some simple steps may be helpful. “There are plenty of things you can do through lifestyle—eat the right foods, get enough exercise, stay connected with others—to help keep energy reserves up,” says Rosanne M. Leipzig, MD, a professor in the department of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and author of “Honest Aging: An Insider’s Guide to the Second Half of Life” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2023).
That said, if your energy lags enough to make daily activities challenging, she recommends seeing a doctor to rule out or fix a health issue that may be at fault. (See “5 Energy Sappers,” below.) And consider these strategies.
Check Your Medications
Some meds can cause drowsiness, says Lillian Min, MD, MSHS, an associate professor of geriatric and palliative medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
One common offender is diphenhydramine, found in some over-the-counter cold medications and allergy drugs like Benadryl. Beta-blockers for high blood pressure, such as acebutolol (Sectral) and metoprolol (Lopressor), may also make you tired.
In addition, certain SSRI antidepressants may have sedating qualities, as can muscle relaxants and opioids, says Richard Marottoli, MD, MPH, a geriatrician at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. In these cases, talk to your doctor; switching to another class of drug with similar benefits may help.
Get Some Light in the A.M.
Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day is important, especially the getting up part, says Christina Pierpaoli Parker, PhD, a geriatric behavioral sleep medicine psychologist at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. This helps regulate your body clock and energy levels.
On awakening, expose yourself to natural light as soon as possible. “It’s highly alerting and can provide energy throughout the day,” says Shelby Harris, PsyD, a clinical associate professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. This can also improve sleep quality.
Try a morning walk, throw open your curtains or blinds, or consider a sunrise alarm clock, which mimics natural sunlight.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
Older adults may be more likely to be dehydrated. “As you age, your thirst cues become blunted,” says Jessica Sylvester, MS, RD, a clinical dietitian and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. As a result, you’re less likely to drink enough fluids, and one small study suggests that even minimal dehydration can cause fatigue, at least in young women.
To prevent dehydration, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that women generally get about 9 cups of fluid per day and men about 13 cups. (Foods like soup and produce also contain fluids.) “I suggest to my older patients that they get a water bottle they like, and drink three of them each day,” Sylvester says.
Eat the Right Stuff
Because your appetite may become smaller with age, it’s important to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need to maintain strength and energy.
So every meal and snack should include complex carbohydrates—produce or whole grains—plus protein or a bit of healthy fat, or both, Sylvester says. “The combination of at least two of these macronutrients helps slow down digestion and absorption, so you don’t see as big of a spike in blood sugar,” she says. “This helps prevent a blood sugar crash that contributes to low energy.”
Also, limit processed and refined foods. These tend to be high in simple carbs, which may cause blood sugar rises and crashes that leave you low in energy, she says.
Pay particular attention to protein. People over age 65 should strive for 0.45 to 0.55 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight daily (68 to 83 grams for a 150-pound woman, and 81 to 99 grams for a 180-pound man). Try to spread it evenly across meals. A 2013 study in the Nutrition Journal found that uneven distribution of protein throughout the day was associated with frailty, slower walking speed, and fatigue in older adults. Most animal sources of protein are also rich in B12, a nutrient that becomes hard to absorb with age.
Move Around More
Aerobic exercise is key. “It improves cardiovascular function, so your body can move oxygen-containing blood around your body more efficiently,” says Joshua Keller, PhD, an exercise physiologist at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. As a result, you feel more energized, and actions like lifting a heavy object or climbing stairs become easier.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that older adults get 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise such as brisk walking. If that’s daunting, start with less and ramp up slowly. “We want to meet people at their level. If you feel too tired, then just try to walk around the block, and gradually increase distance and intensity every week,” Keller says.
Resistance training is important for maintaining energy, too. Muscles lose 10 to 15 percent of their size and strength every year after age 50, especially in those who are sedentary. About 30 percent of adults over age 70 have trouble walking, getting out of a chair, or climbing stairs, according to the National Institute on Aging.
Keller suggests strength training or exercises that also incorporate balance, like tai chi and yoga, twice a week. He recommends adding brief bouts of exercise—a minute or two—throughout the day, as well. A 2022 review concluded that this can boost overall fitness and heart health. These mini-workouts, whether it’s marching in place, doing pushups against the wall, or doing squats, can be energizing, too.
5 Energy Sappers
If you feel tired all the time, it may be caused by a health problem:
Anemia: About 17 percent of older adults have anemia. Iron-deficiency anemia, the most common type, can be treated with iron supplements.
Obstructive sleep apnea: Some people may have this without knowing it, but many can now be diagnosed with OSA via an at-home test. The gold standard treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), where you wear a mask connected to a pump that pushes air into your airway and keeps it open while you sleep.
Vitamin B₁₂ deficiency: Up to 19 percent of older adults may have a shortfall of vitamin B₁₂. A deficiency may be treated with supplements.
Hypothyroidism: If blood tests reveal high levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone, a daily hormone replacement tablet can help.
Stress: Stress can fatigue you. “It causes something I call wired but tired,” Pierpaoli Parker says. “Your body is constantly pumping out stress hormones, which is exhausting, but your brain won’t turn off, so you can’t rest and fall asleep.”
Her advice? Schedule some “worry” time. Make a list of everything you’re concerned about and next to each, note one action you can take to help address the worries. Just writing down the issues may help give you some needed perspective. In addition, “It teaches your mind to compartmentalize and restrict worries to a specific time period,” Pierpaoli Parker says.
Also useful: belly breathing, which can calm you. Sit in a comfortable chair or lie down and place your hands on your belly (beneath the navel). Slowly breathe in through your nose, mouth closed. Then blow all of the air out slowly through your nose. As you breathe in, your belly should feel like it’s filling with air. Repeat five to 10 times. If such DIY techniques don’t help enough—you still feel stressed, or very anxious or depressed—reach out to your doctor.
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