We hear you! You used to multi-task and never feel like you were running on empty. Nowadays, you cross off two items on your list and your brain is fried. It may make you feel better to know that this energy drain may be normal. Yet, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to get your energy back. (Nevertheless, if you feel tired every day and do not seem to get any better, consult with your physician to rule out other health conditions.)
Contrary to what many people think, this energy loss is not all in your head. First, the estrogen declines of menopause don’t just hit your belly, but also your mood and energy. Lower levels of estrogen are associated with low serotonin, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good and cheerful. At the same time, menopause causes symptoms like night sweats and insomnia that affect sleep. In particular, lack of sleep has been shown to disrupt hormones linked to appetite control, stress, and yes, overall energy.
Menopause also has other aging effects that can influence energy levels. Whether you experience menopause symptoms or not, muscle mass declines after age 30, and gets depleted more rapidly if you don’t exercise. The metabolism slowdown that happens with lost muscle mass will make you feel more tired, even when you’re doing the same daily activities that you used to do in your late 20s or early 30s.
What can you do to turn up your energy? Plenty.
Keep moving! Regular exercise—as little as 20 minutes a day—will alleviate many menopause and aging symptoms at the same time. Muscle mass will fire up metabolism, and thus, decrease body fat. This will alleviate menopause symptoms like night sweats because the more fat you have, the higher your body temperature will be, and the more night sweats you will experience. Parallel to this, regular exercise has been proven to increase the feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and adrenaline. And, if you need more reasons to move your body, a study shows that people who exercise regularly report better sleep quality.
Reach for protein and whole grain carbs. When you cannot keep your head up in an office meeting, your first instinct is often to reach for something sweet for an energy jolt. Stop! Research published in the Journal Neuron shows protein, not sugar, activates the cells that keep us awake and burning calories. But not all carbohydrates fuel the body in the same way. Whole grain carbohydrates provide the glucose to keep the brain going, but protein, especially good sources of the amino acid tyrosine, will guarantee you don’t forget what the long meeting was about. Tyrosine also aids in the production of dopamine – a neurotransmitter that is critical for brain energy and alertness.
In the protein and healthy fats departments, you can’t go wrong with nuts, fat-free Greek yogurt, skim feta cheese, and eggs. Pair the protein with a 100 percent whole grain carbohydrate to give you an energy pick-me-up that will last until dinner.
One of the best carbohydrate options is plain popcorn, a 100% unprocessed whole grain. Popcorn has more polyphones (antioxidant substances) than fruits and vegetables, making it the perfect snack, according to the American Chemical Society.
What are you drinking? You don’t need to gulp down three gallons of water, but you have to make sure you do not run low on this precious liquid. Thirst can be confused with hunger, which will make you reach for the wrong foods. Likewise, hydration status affects cognitive performance and mood. In a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, subjects who experienced even a 1% level of dehydration had a more degraded mood, increased perception of task difficulty, lower concentration, and headache symptoms.
Check your medications and add some supplements. Consult with your physician about medications you’re taking. Particularly, if you’re taking any drug to lower your cholesterol, ask your doctor if you can add the supplement CoQ10. This coenzyme helps to maintain the health of your mitochondria (the energy powerhouse.) Studies show cholesterol drugs deplete this enzyme. Equally important is to check your vitamin B6 status if you use an estrogen supplement. Low levels of B6 may impair the production of the good feeling serotonin and the sleep hormone melatonin.
Consume more sleep enhancing foods. Sleep can directly affect energy levels. Here’s how to ensure you get a good night’s rest. Include ½ cup of whole-wheat cereal with skim milk or pumpkin seeds with apricots or apples in your diet. These provide the amino acid tryptophan, which can calm you down through increased serotonin production. Drink two tablespoons of no-sugar-added tart cherry juice concentrate added to an eight ounce glass of water, twice a day. Cherry juice is rich in melatonin, which increases the production of sleep hormones.