OPINION: Feeling tired all the time? Take action by getting active

Keeping active - from swimming to dancing around the kitchen may make you feel less tired, says Christine

Keeping active - from swimming to dancing around the kitchen may make you feel less tired, says Christine - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

I’ve lost count of how many adults have told me recently that they feel exhausted. This is worrying for them. And what they often want to know is this: Is fatigue an inevitable part of ageing?

Well, it would be true to say it’s more common. One of the reasons for that is we often take less exercise as we age, and our muscles become flabbier and less efficient, which means that doing things and getting around can take more effort than it used to.

But not everyone winds down after 50 or even later than that. Look at the workload of Sir David Attenborough for example.

However, there is always a public perception that getting older must mean you have less energy than you once had. I noticed a post on social media the other day from someone saying if you see anyone over 60 out in a pub or restaurant after 9pm, you can bet your life they’ve had an afternoon nap. This was funny, of course. But not strictly true.

Some individuals never nap, no matter how old they get. Others are regular nappers and may well have got into the habit a very long time before pensionable age.

In actual fact, I think there’s often a dip in our energy levels after the dark, damp and colder months of autumn and winter, and before spring becomes a reliable matter. So partly, I think the prevalent exhaustion is attributable to that.

But I also believe it’s a reaction to the pandemic.

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As a therapist, I’ve often been staggered by how resilient people are during a crisis – whether it’s the loss of a job, a health scare, a financial worry, or a partner threatening to leave because he or she is having an affair.

But I have also noticed that after they have surmounted such difficulties, and just when life should be normal and happier, they often become ill, or start having panic attacks, or experience desperate tiredness.

These emotions are obviously reactions to what they have been through. And I think that may well be what is happening to many of us now. For two years, we have lived with massive uncertainty and anxiety, so it’s small wonder many of us are feeling deep fatigue now just as life is opening up again.

But what’s to be done about it? Well in many cases, I think we need to be kind to ourselves and ride it out until it passes.

Meanwhile, try to get sufficient sleep, do a bit more exercise, get plenty of fresh air, and maybe organise a brief stay somewhere else to give you a change of scene. In other words, treat yourself as if you’re recovering from a car accident or an illness. And think of the next couple of months as convalescence.

But if your fatigue goes on and on, should you see a doctor?

Well, you could certainly ring your health centre and see if you can talk to someone about your symptoms, but perpetual tiredness is one of those subjects medics tend to find very difficult. They know that so often it goes away naturally, and many of them feel tired all the time too!

However, if your fatigue is linked to you needing to pee frequently, then you should get a doctor’s appointment. The same goes for fatigue accompanied by a change in your weight. If you are piling on the pounds and also feeling more cold than usual, that might need checking out. Ditto, if you’re exhausted and also experiencing unwanted weight loss, your doctor will want to know about that. The same goes for exhaustion linked to painful joints.

For most of us though, spring and summer will chase away our tiredness and as we get used to the new normal of post-pandemic life, many of us will regain our normal energy levels.

Finally, do remember that we often feel fatigued when we’re not active enough. So try and get more movement into your day. Dance round the kitchen to music on the radio. Run up and down stairs a few times. Go for a longer, faster walk than usual. Most of us feel considerably better by making small changes of this kind.

My other suggestions are that you never nap after 3pm and try not to go to sleep in the day for longer than half an hour. Remember too that tiredness can often be confused with low mood. So plan some treats – such as a trip to the theatre, or lunch with a friend. And do try to do something useful and productive every day even if you’re retired.

Lastly, remember we have all been through a hell of a lot. Getting back to normal is going to take time and effort. But don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back for being amazing, while the world has been turned upside down.