Ask the Doctors

Dear Doctor: I'm about to turn 60, and when I spend the afternoon playing with my 7- and 9-year-old grandsons, I'm wiped out. Is there anything that I can do to feel and be more energetic? I want to be an active grandmother and not just sit on the sidelines.

Dear Reader: We'd like to begin by reassuring you -- it's the rare adult who can match the activity level of a young child, who is basically a marvel of perpetual motion. However, your question does address certain realities of older adulthood.

As we age, particularly when we reach our 60s and beyond, certain changes begin to take place in our bodies. We experience a decrease in muscle mass, which results in a loss of both strength and balance. A change to sleep patterns, including less deep sleep and more frequent awakenings during the night, can cause fatigue, a drop in mental sharpness and even lead to depression. Add in the various other changes that take place in the aging heart and brain, and the result is often a feeling of low energy.

Lifestyle plays a role as well. For many adults, older age or retirement means less daily contact with a variety of people, less decision-making, a lower level of physical activity and even less time spent outdoors.

As you suspected, there are some simple steps you can take to feel better.

-- Eating a diet based on lean proteins, healthful fats, a variety of high-fiber fruits and vegetables, and limited added sugars.

-- Drink enough water. It's easy to forget to stay adequately hydrated. (And no, diet and caffeinated beverages don't count. In fact, they can act as diuretics and result in net fluid loss.)

-- No smoking. Not only does smoking tobacco quite dramatically cut down on your lung capacity, it is a risk factor in heart disease and many cancers.

-- Get enough vitamin D, which is essential to bone health and helps with depression. Spending time in sunlight or taking a supplement are necessary for adequate vitamin D.

-- Make daily exercise a priority. Walking is an excellent way to get your blood flowing and your muscles moving. It takes no equipment, is low-stress, and can be done with a partner or in a group. Yoga is a great for both the body and the mind. Weight-bearing exercises are also important to muscle and bone strength, and to stability.

-- Avoid constipation. Diet, exercise and adequate water will put you on the path to regularity. If you find you're still having trouble, the occasional use of a fiber supplement and a stool softener can be helpful.

-- Be creative about getting enough sleep. Daytime naps can make a big difference. If napping isn't in your skill set, simply taking the time to lie down with your eyes closed for five or 10 minutes can leave you refreshed.

Taken as a whole, these changes to your daily routine can help you feel more energetic -- and help you to keep up with your grandsons.

(Send your questions to askthedoctors@mednet.ucla.edu, or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o Media Relations, UCLA Health, 924 Westwood Blvd., Suite 350, Los Angeles, CA, 90095. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)

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