Waking up in the morning feels just a little more challenging than it did a few years ago. You often have to rest during activities you used to feel excited and energized by—couples’ tennis, a painting class, or your weekly running group. Maybe even sex seems like more of a chore than a pleasure.
Do these scenarios sound familiar?
As we get older, we experience energy shifts—some energy changes are normal and should be expected. But we can avoid significant reductions by addressing the reasons why our biological energy stores decrease in the first place.
Why does daily energy decrease as we age?
Two main issues top the list for age-related energy decreases—digestive distress and problems within the energy producers of the cell, the mitochondria.
Perhaps certain foods disagree with you even though you used to tolerate them just fine. Maybe you’ve felt the beginnings of heartburn or more bloating and gas. You may even notice that your bowel movements have changed.
Digestion is the first step in energy creation. Ideally, the food you eat is broken down and absorbed into every cell. Simply put, more digestive efficiency and better absorption equal more energy! Optimization of digestion, absorption, and the final step, energy creation (officially known as metabolism), is truly as simple as working toward better digestive efficiency (1).
So, how do you increase efficiency?
The first step is to slow down. Many of us have spent our whole lives eating in a rush.
A research team tracked a group of individuals for eight years. They found that fast eating is linked to a 35 percent increase in a person’s risk for metabolic syndrome, a host of health problems that include high blood pressure and blood sugar, poor cholesterol numbers, and excess abdominal fat!
Meals are times for calm chewing and good conversation, not gulping or eating on the run. Learn to appreciate how food nourishes you, fuels your body, and taste the goodness of the earth’s bounty. It’s sadly missing from today’s “fill the belly, and race to the next activity” mindset. Sit down when you eat, stay mindful and in the moment, and have gratitude for having access to the food in front of you.
The second step is simple: thoroughly chew your food. Though it may be hard to believe, numerous studies have found that the rate at which you chew your food, regardless of what you eat, is directly linked to your weight.
According to a 2014 study published in the journal Obesity, thoroughly chewing your food (not swallowing large chunks or lumps) increases the number of calories the body burns during digestion to the tune of about 10 extra calories per meal! In other words, just by slowing down the rate at which you chew, you could potentially burn approximately 2,000 extra calories each month. The study also found that chewing food more thoroughly increases blood flow to the stomach and gut, which may help to improve digestion and absorption of more nutrients from your food.
Remember: the stomach doesn’t have teeth. Good digestion can occur only when you chew your food until it is mashed to a pulp, typically 20-30 times per bite.
Third, drink plenty of clean water throughout your day. This is a critical part of maintaining balanced energy for many reasons but sipping water through the day (as opposed to large amounts of fluids during meals) seriously aids your digestive processes.
If You Take a PPI, Talk to Your Doctor
And fourth, speak to your doctor about any long-term use of acid-blocking prescription drugs, typically proton pump inhibitors or histamine blockers. These drugs can have fantastic effects when used appropriately but will eventually inhibit optimal digestion with chronic use. There are other, safer alternatives to consider instead, which is a topic we discuss in great detail in our RESTART® program.
Let’s take a moment and dive deep into the cell. Within each cell of your body are tiny structures called mitochondria, the organelles that make your energy. They are unique, microscopic, metabolic structures that pump out lots of ATP, the most basic energy compound in the body.
Commonly, however, as we age, the mitochondria become less and less capable of producing energy. They are negatively affected by processed foods, particularly trans-fats, as well as environmental toxins, nutrient deficiencies, and sedentary behavior.
The good news is that we can recover mitochondrial function. Three ways to improve their energy output are through colorful foods, exercise, and caloric restriction.
Colorful foods include any plant food with vibrant color. To protect and repair mitochondria, eat blueberries, purple cabbage, black rice, pink radishes, red bell peppers, white onions, and lots of leafy greens. In fact, one of the main reasons antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables are touted as superfoods is due to their positive effects on the mitochondria. See how many colors you can eat at each meal.
Move Your Body
Many studies point to exercise as the number one way to improve mitochondrial health. Physical movement improves both mitochondrial numbers and quality—an incredible adaptation! Any physical activity will increase energy, but it’s important to find exercises that feel good to you. Biking, hiking, swimming, bowling, frisbee, walking, beachcombing…you name it, your mitochondria will love it (2).
Restrict In the Right Way
Caloric restriction – also called time-restricted eating or intermittent fasting – is also an excellent way to improve mitochondrial function, probably due to its anti-oxidative effects. It has been widely studied to improve metabolism and slow the aging process—the same factors that will increase daily energy!
However, it’s very, very important for people over 50 to restrict calories appropriately. Nutrient deficiencies, specifically deficiencies in protein intake, can have drastic, adverse effects on older individuals. Too much caloric restriction can lead to muscle loss and hormonal imbalances.
The perfect way for you to start restricting calories is through an overnight fast. See if you can go without any food for 12 to 14 hours per day, from approximately 6 PM to 6 AM or 8 AM. This will give you a chance to reduce the total number of calories you eat per day while also giving your digestive and metabolic systems a break (3).