How to beat the post-40 energy slump
Once we hit 40, we convince ourselves we need to save energy - so we avoid proper exercise and food prep. Snap out of it, says James Crossley. And here's how...
As we age, our health and fitness often gets neglected due to work commitments and family life. It's an easy trap to fall in to, in part because we tell ourselves that we need to conserve our energy. 'I won't go for that swim because I'm knackered already and would be better off just spending a night in front of the telly' - you know how it goes.
The problem is that this logic doesn't work. Not exercising is itself a cause of low energy levels, which might explain why you wake up tired, hit big energy slumps in the afternoon, and fall asleep straight after dinner.
To start to fix those dead spots, you should get a health check from your GP that looks into your blood levels. As long as the results don't show up any issues, you have to consider whether an erratic lifestyle is at the root of your woes.
And if it is? Then here's what you need to do ...
To put it in simple terms, we need to keep the blood sugar levels both stable and sufficient. This will prevent slumps, cravings, and peak-trough cycles - like the ones you get after eating a sugary chocolate bar.
You already know the nuts and bolts of how to do this - eat regularly, eat well, and stay hydrated - but you probably also know that actually abiding by it isn't always easy. The trick is to form new habits. Follow the below and you won't go too wrong ...
Don't skip breakfast
After a night's sleep, the body is ready for a much-needed feed to kick-start the metabolism.
Just grabbing a bowl of carb-heavy sugary cereal or a slice of toast doesn't really cut it, as they can make you hit an energy slump and feel super sleepy. Ideally, look at a breakfast that contains both protein and smart fat. This will feed the brain and body with essential nutrients, giving you a feeling of fullness (so no sugar cravings) and setting your body up with a stable energy boost.
Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and an avocado would be an example. The eggs bring the protein, the salmon brings oils that help your brain, and the avocado brings good fats - the kind that can actually lower your cholesterol.
Or, if you are short on time, opt for porridge with fruit and a nice scoop of Greek yoghurt. Porridge is particularly good because it releases its energy slowly, which means your blood sugar levels will remain topped up - but not OTT - until lunchtime.
Plan your meals
Once breakfast is out of the way, you need to look at fuelling the body every 3-4 hours. And sorry, but sandwiches and quick-fix snacks are off the menu.
Think before you eat. You want a good, lean source of protein, green vegetables, fruits and healthy carbs in your diet. This means avoiding processed foods, refined carbohydrates and hidden sugars/sweeteners.
Preparing your meals the night before is a good habit to get into; if you buy a steamer this can all be done in 30 minutes whilst you're in the shower. Chicken, vegetables and rice can all be put into the steamer for tomorrow's on-the-go meals - that way, you don't have to resort to fast, convenient food. Or mix and match a bit, just be mindful of what food you buy from the shop. The most important thing is to keep healthy eating as a sustainable habit.
It may initially seem like a pain but once you set up these good habits and get into a routine, then you will quickly start to see the rewards and feel much more energised.
It sounds obvious, but it's worth stating: if you want to feel energetic, you need to sleep well.
Sleep is when we repair, recover and resynthesise hormones. It's all the more important as we age, when our cortisol (stress) levels are naturally higher. Cortisol is essentially our stress hormone - it's at its highest in the morning, and should decrease as the day goes on. If your cortisol is high at night, you could be in for a restless night.
* Watch your caffeine intake, especially after 2pm. You could even try cutting it altogether and see how that affects you.
* Go easy on the booze. A glass of red wine is fine but if you find you are drinking regularly and excessively, this will impact on your sleep patterns. Remember that alcohol is a toxin that has to be cleaned out of the blood; go to bed on a full belly of booze, and you're giving your body more to work through over night.
* Late night lights are your enemy. Avoid TVs and phones 30-45 minutes before sleep.
* Before getting into bed, write down anything you need to do tomorrow. That way, you unburden your mind of the worry that you might forget something.
* Try to go to bed at the same time. The body likes a routine, so teach it when to fall asleep and wake up.
* Keep your bedroom as dark as it can be.
Dehydration leads to fatigue and the body not working at optimum levels. To an extent, it's natural - we lose water through sweat and vapour as we breathe. But it's essential that water is replaced: it's used in cells and by organs to regulate temperature and maintain our body functions. We are 60pc water, so it really is essential to drink throughout the day. Don't just wait until you feel thirsty - that's too late.
One big problem among many people in midlife is that water is replaced with coffees and soft drinks, which do not hydrate your body properly and can cause other issues like excess consumption of sugar or caffeine. That's not to say you can't have those drinks - just that you can't substitute them for water.
Look to drink 2-3 litres of water a day. An easy way to measure this is to take a litre bottle of water around with you and make sure you refill it at least once, preferably twice.
You may be surprised initially how little water you are currently drinking.
20-60 minutes' exercise 3-4 times a week will make you feel more energised. This is because exercise increases the blood flow around the body, carrying oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. Think of it a bit like a car engine: an engine that runs regularly will most likely last longer than one that sits on the drive watching TV.
Exercise is an incredibly important habit to add to your daily routine. I know that four hours a week sounds like a lot - but it's easier to get than you think. Exercise isn't all about going to the gym. You might hit that mark simply by walking to work instead of getting the bus; or invest in a bike and use it for your weekly shop. At home, think of cleaning the house or gardening as a workout and make sure you attack it.