Why Do We Have Less Energy as We Age?
If you find yourself frequently nodding off in front of the telly or hearing yourself saying “I don't have the energy I used to” you're not alone - feeling tired and old are often closely linked. But, why do we have less energy as we age?
One important factor is cellular ageing. As the cells in the body age, they become less efficient and function less well.
While the rate of cellular ageing is partly determined by genetics, it is also heavily influenced by our lifestyle, which means that there are many changes we can make to stop tiredness and fatigue becoming an accepted part of the ageing process. Follow these tips to combat a loss of energy with age.
Loss of Energy with Age
Ageing involves multiple interacting processes so there are several different theories surrounding its causes. In recent decades, the Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Ageing (MFRTA) has taken centre stage as a leading contributor to the loss of energy with age.
The body produces energy in the mitochondria, where it combines food and oxygen to generate the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This aerobic metabolism also produces unwanted toxic byproducts called free radicals that cause oxidative damage to cells, particularly the mitochondria.
External factors accelerate the production of free radicals, including toxins, infections, allergens, stress, sun damage, pollution, smoking, poor diet, and too much food. As they age, the cumulative damage to the mitochondria makes them less efficient at turning fuel into energy and the number of mitochondria per cell reduces. As a result, the body has to function with one-half to one-fourth of the energy it had in its youth. This has a knock on effect on the whole body, particularly on the organs that require the most energy such as the heart and brain.
Mitochondrial decay is a major contributor to ageing - studies have shown that young people have virtually no mitochondrial damage, whereas the mitochondria in the cells of elderly people are mostly dysfunctional. So improving mitochondrial function may help to protect against, even eliminate, one risk factor for disease.
Physical Effects of Ageing
There are many physical effects of ageing that cause low energy levels, including restricted blood flow, slow metabolism, and disrupted sleep patterns. While ageing can't be avoided, there are steps you can take to slow cellular ageing and keep your energy levels consistent.
Restricted Blood Flow
As the body ages, fatty deposits build up along the inside of blood vessel walls, which causes them to lose their elasticity and become thicker and stiffer. These changes mean that the blood vessels take longer to relax, which increases pressure and results in common problems such as angina, atherosclerosis, and high blood pressure.
By the age of 80, cerebral blood flow is approximately 20% less than at age 30, which means that the heart has less capacity for physical exertion and may feel fatigued more easily. As a result, we feel a gradual decline in our energy and endurance levels.
To protect your heart against cellular ageing, follow a heart healthy Mediterranean-style diet rich in vegetables and good omega 3 fats. Regular exercise is by far the best way to maintain cardiovascular fitness and keep the heart young, and will help you to maintain a healthy weight. If you have high cholesterol, try plant sterol tablets which have been proven to safely lower LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Poor Sleep Patterns
Age affects our circadian rhythm, causing us to sleep earlier and wake earlier, and to spend less time in deep sleep. You may find yourself frequently waking up during the night and feeling less rested during the day as deep sleep is required for the body to restore energy levels.
The reason for this is not fully understood, but it may be due to a natural decrease in melatonin levels, which is the hormone that helps to induce sleep at night.
Snoring often becomes worse with age and can disrupt the sleep of you or your partner. Heavy snoring may be a sign of obstructive sleep apnoea, so check with your GP if you wake feeling tired and unrested.
To improve the quality of sleep, try to stick to a regular bedtime schedule and take time out to relax before bed. You could also increase your intake of magnesium to calm the nerves and relax the muscles.
Good food sources of magnesium include spinach, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and black beans, and a daily magnesium supplement could also be beneficial. Alternatively, take a bath with Epsom salts before bed as these are made of magnesium and are easily absorbed through the skin.
Muscle Mass Declines
Muscle mass declines steadily with age and may be replaced with fatty tissue - muscle tone declines by around 22% by the age of 70. As muscles shrink, they lose strength and flexibility and become fatigued more easily, and you may find you are less coordinated or have trouble balancing.
The more sedentary you are, the quicker these changes take place so it's important to keep active as you age. Focus on strength training exercises that can help to reduce the rate of muscle loss and improve endurance. Exercising in the morning will also help to keep energy levels higher throughout the rest of the day.
Bones Shrink in Size and Density
Bones start to lose density around the age of 35, and this gradually declines year after year. For women, the speed of decline accelerates after menopause due to a lack of protective oestrogen.
As bone density declines, the bones become weaker and more susceptible to fracture. Joint movement becomes more restricted and flexibility reduces, and there may be obvious changes to the skeletal system, such as a stooped posture. The cartilage in between joints and bones also becomes thinner due to gradual wear and tear, which results in inflammation and further increases the risk of injury.
To protect against the loss of bone density, ensure you consume sufficient amounts of bone protecting nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin K. Regular weight bearing exercises, such as brisk walking and yoga, can help to strengthen joints and protect against bone loss.
The Metabolic Rate Drops
Hormonal changes cause your metabolic rate to drop, which results in more body fat and less muscle mass. Fat also tends to move deeper inside the body as we age, which increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
To combat a slow metabolism, it is important to stay active using a variety of different activities that include cardio and strength training. Don't rely on diet alone to lose weight as reducing your food intake also reduces your metabolic rate.
Poor diet is a leading cause of tiredness and fatigue. Constipation is an increasingly common concern, as the speed of contractions moving food through the digestive system slows.
When the transit of food slows down, more water gets absorbed from food waste, and results in painful or infrequent bowel movements. The body often produces less lactase, an enzyme needed to digest milk, and as a result, you are more likely to develop a dairy intolerance, symptoms of which include bloating and gas.
Many of us start to take more medications as we age, some of which can cause constipation – the most common culprits include medications for high blood pressure and inflammation. Check your medications for side effects and consult with your GP to discuss alternatives if necessary.
A healthy well balanced diet is crucial to maintaining regular digestion and sustained energy levels. Always start the day with an energy-boosting breakfast such as porridge or wholemeal toast, and include plenty of fibre-rich foods. Drink plenty of fluids and exercise regularly to keep food moving through the digestive tract. Water can also help by preventing dehydration, which increases feelings of fatigue.
Decline in Mental Energy
Some of the connections between neurons in the brain become less efficient or broken. When this happens, you may start to notice mild memory loss, such as struggling to recall names or words. You may also find it difficult to maintain concentration, and learning new things may take longer.
Emotional worries can seriously deplete the body's energy stores. Long-term stress, anxiety or depression cause changes to chemicals present in the brain, making it harder to concentrate and recall information.
It's important to keep the brain active on a daily basis to prevent a decline in mental energy. There are many brain training games available on the internet and in books. Picking up a new skill or hobby can be effective, such as learning new words, a new language, or a musical instrument. Supplements to help If your energy is flagging, nutritional supplements can also help to provide sustained energy release throughout the day.
- Co Enzyme Q10: CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant that sparks the production of cellular energy. It exists in the mitochondria of cells, where it helps to produce ATP and destroy free radicals. The proper production of cellular energy has a knock on effect on all the body's systems including the immune, digestive, metabolic, hormonal, and cardiovascular systems. The heart, liver and kidneys have the highest concentrations of Co Enzyme Q10 as they consume huge amounts of energy. As the body ages, it naturally produces less Co Enzyme Q10 so CoQ10 supplements become increasingly important.
- Vitamin B Complex: While there are eight different B vitamins, it is vitamin B12 that is often touted for its energy boosting properties as it helps to convert food into glucose to provide the body with energy. It also maintains the health of nerve cells and supports the health of the central nervous system, and as a result can boost concentration, memory, mood, and energy. Mature adults are more likely to be deficient in B12 as ageing digestive systems often don't produce sufficient stomach acid to fully absorb the vitamin from food. However, vitamin B12 supplements provide B12 in its free form, which doesn't require gastric acid for separation in the stomach. The B vitamins riboflavin and niacin are also important as they are involved in the first stages of turning glucose into ATP.
- Korean Ginseng: Korean Ginseng is a popular herbal energy booster used to rejuvenate the body and mind. It is often referred to as an adaptogen, which means that it helps to strengthen the body's resistance to stress, fatigue, and disease. The roots of the Korean Ginseng plant contain beneficial compounds called ginsenosides, which have been tested in over 1000 clinical trials and have been shown to boost energy, stamina, concentration, and brain power. Korean ginseng also promotes the growth of blood vessels, helps to reduce the ‘stickiness' of blood platelets, and improves blood flow around the body. Taking a Korean Ginseng supplement can support the body's natural response to stress and anxiety, and overcome any loss of energy with age.