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Adopt Rituals to Prevent an Energy Crisis

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: I am almost 80 and angry – angry at my body because it can’t do what it used to do.  At one time, I was able to climb up on the kitchen counter to reach a high shelf.  I don’t do that anymore.  And, I am tired — too tired to exercise.  By the end of the day, the last thing I feel like doing is going to a gym or even walking.  Is this just fate and something I have to get used to?

Answer: You are not alone.  Fortunately, there is hope.

Let’s first understand why we have less energy.

Sleep patterns change with age.  Older people spend less time in what is called deep sleep which is most important in restoring energy.

Also, falling asleep can become more difficult with age because of a decline in the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleeping and waking cycles.

Muscle mass declines with age.  By the age of 70, on average, we lose about 30 per cent of the muscle mass we had at age 20.  Less muscle mass means less strength and less strength means it takes more effort and energy to do what we typically have done in the past.

Illnesses common with age can interfere with sleep.  For example, people with congestive heart failure may awake at night because they are short of breath. Those with heartburn may have discomfort lying down.

Lifestyles affect energy levels. Those providing care to a loved one often describe themselves as exhausted.  And those in the sandwich generation, caring for aging parents and their own children plus working — often suffer from perpetual fatigue.

Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy in the 2007 Harvard Business Review article “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” identify four sources that influence our energy and describe some helpful rituals to prevent energy deficits.

Our Body. The body is a source of physical energy.  We know that lack of nutrition, exercise and sleep diminishes physical energy.

Rituals:  To improve sleep, go to bed earlier and reduce alcohol consumption.  Stress, which can effects our energy level, can be reduced by cardiovascular and strength training.  Signs of low energy are “restlessness, yawning, hunger and difficulty concentrating.”

Our Emotions. Emotions affect the quality of our energy.  We know that intense emotions cannot not be sustained for long periods of time without periods of recovery.  And with age, recovery typically takes a little longer.  If we ignore the need for down time, we may become “irritable, impatient, anxious and insecure.”  These emotions can be exhausting.

Rituals: Deep breathing exercises can diffuse negative emotions.

And if we have an intensely difficult situation, consider “how will I think about this in six months and what can I learn from it?”

Our Mind. What we do with our mind affects the focus of our energy.    For example, multi-tasking has been considered a value in the work place. In reality, it undermines productivity.  As much as 25 per cent of time is wasted in switching from one task to another.

Rituals:  When tasks require high performance, avoid e-mails, texting and the telephone.  Every night identify the most important challenge for the next day. Make that a priority the next morning.

Our spirit. The human spirit derives energy from having purpose and meaning in life.    When daily activities are consistent with our values, we derive a sense of meaning.  As a result, we typically have “more positive energy, focus better and demonstrate greater perseverance.”

Rituals:  Allocate time and energy to what is most important.  Even if you only have limited time, try this on a daily basis.  Another ritual is to recall when you have felt absorbed, effective and inspired.  Deconstruct that experience to understand what has energized you.  Was it your creativity?  Using one of your skills?  Being with someone special?

Here’s a tip on timing.  Try exercising at the beginning rather than the end of the day.  A daily walk will do it.  If you want company, check out some walking groups.

Or, just call a friend.

Robert M. Hutchins, a former Chancellor of the University of Chicago describes his feelings about exercise.  “When I feel like exercising, I just lie down until the feeling goes away.”

Try to avoid the Hutchins approach.   And best wishes on rediscovering your energy.

Copyright 2011 Helen Dennis. All rights reserved.

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