There’s an energy crisis among over-40 women and, Al Gore notwithstanding, hybrid cars and alternative fuels won’t solve it. You can blame the drain partly on stress, which is one of life’s main energy-sappers—especially when combined with falling levels of estrogen. “Stress makes the hormonal fluctuations you’re going through more intense, and they may make it harder to cope,” says JoAnn Pinkerton, MD, president of the North American Menopause Society.
What this means is that you need to be smarter about how you handle your energy. Some common fixes, such as massive doses of caffeine, can actually be counterproductive. And some frequently ignored issues, like chronic bad moods, can easily be turned around to improve your get-up-and-go. Here are some common mistakes midlife women make and how to remedy them.
ENERGY ERROR You mainline caffeine
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD Peppermint tea
Caffeine can give you a buzz, but using it can also bring you down because caffeine withdrawal, and one of its primary symp-toms, fatigue, may make this boost backfire. Withdrawal can occur with a caffeine intake as low as 100 milligrams a day (the equivalent of one cup of brewed coffee) and can set in as early as 12 hours after your last cup of joe. “Symptoms increase with the amount of coffee you drink,” says Chad Reissig, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Consider progressively easing back on caffeine, slowly switching to decaf or substituting peppermint tea. Besides helping you be caffeine-free, it may also stimulate nerves in the brain.
ENERGY ERROR You think you can wish away a bad case of the blues or nerves
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD Investigate to see whether the cause might be physical
Hormonal flux makes women more vulnerable to mood disorders in midlife. Clinical depression is two to four times more likely to occur during perimenopause than at other times of life; anxiety is also common during this transition period. Ask your doctor to help you assess your mood issues; they may be abated with regular exercise, stress reduction techniques, birth control pills or a low-dose antidepressant. And have her check your vitamin D blood level, especially if you aren’t getting daily sun exposure, Pinkerton says. Lack of vitamin D can make you more susceptible to depression; you’re more likely to experience a shortfall as you grow older, when the skin’s ability to convert sunlight into vitamin D slows down.
ENERGY ERROR You soldier through heavy periods
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD Reduce the bleeding
Don’t disregard the heavy bleeding that often accompanies perimenopause; a heavy flow can substantially lower your iron stores and cause anemia, a serious energy drain. “Have your doctor check your hematocrit [red blood cell count], and if it’s low, your ferritin level to see if you need an iron supplement,” Pinkerton says. Your physician may suggest trying birth control pills or progesterone therapy to lessen bleeding.
ENERGY ERROR When you can’t sleep, you count sheep
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD Go online to help yourself snooze
Night sweats, midnight awakenings and other sleep disturbances are common in midlife. Keeping a diary (go to sleepfoundation.org and type “sleep diary” into the search box) can help you pinpoint the problems that are keeping you awake.
ENERGY ERROR You start the day with low-fiber food
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD A high-fiber cereal
Some research shows that people stay more alert until lunch-time when they eat a high-fiber breakfast cereal (like All-Bran) than when they consume a low-fiber cereal like cornflakes. The likely reason: Fiber slows digestion, which helps you maintain a more consistent energy level.
ENERGY ERROR You dose yourself with ginseng
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD Acupuncture
While ginseng is touted as a fatigue-buster, acupuncture is more likely to help. Watchdog group ConsumerLab.com found that many ginseng dietary supplements lack the ingre-dients they claim to con-tain. But in studies of can-cer patients’ fatigue, acupuncture has been shown to boost energy levels. “I’ve found it helps reg-ular patients as well,” says Andrew Heyman, MD, of the Univer-sity of Michigan Health System, in Ann Arbor. Patients typically begin with weekly treatments, then taper to once every one to four months for tune-ups. You may also want to look for a practitioner who can teach you acupressure, which involves stimulating acupuncture points with your fingers. One study found that students who did self-acupressure were less sleepy in class. To find a practitioner, go to nccaom.org/index.html.
ENERGY ERROR You skip exercise to save energy
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD Push yourself
Expending effort actually increases how energetic you feel, and you don’t have to exercise especially hard to get the payoff. In a University of Georgia study published last year, researchers had 36 persistently tired people cycle on a stationary bike for a half hour, three times a week, for six weeks. The exercisers who worked out at a moderate pace or even at low intensity increased their energy by 20 percent, and afterward their feelings of fatigue decreased significantly.