Fatigue can be a very frustrating and elusive condition. Fatigue is often confused with “tiredness”. Tiredness is commonly experienced after certain activities or at the end of a long day. Fatigue is defined as generalized lack of energy not relieved by sleep. It can be “acute” and last one month or “chronic” and last greater than six months. Despite the high prevalence of fatigue, little is known about the etiology. It can arise from both physical and psychological stresses. Possible causes should be explored with a health care provider. Some examples of physical causes include hypothyroidism, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, diabetes, emphysema, cancer, congestive heart failure, severe anemia, hepatitis, lyme disease, mononucleosis and other infections. Possible psychological causes are depression, anxiety, sleep disorders or boredom. Medications that treat high blood pressure, allergies, anxiety or depression may have the side effect of fatigue.

It is important to recognize that the term “fatigue” is often used to describe actual muscle weakness, lack of endurance or sleepiness. Regardless of the cause, there are actions that can be taken to help manage fatigue.

1) Keep a Log
Evaluating a daily log will help identify triggers that affect your level of energy. Understanding patterns of fatigue can assist in developing energy conversation techniques.

2) Energy Conservation Techniques
Pace yourself or rest to save energy for participating in activities you enjoy. Taking periodic naps may help but should be limited to one hour. Longer naps may interfere with the ability to sleep at night.

3) Avoid Heat and Humidity
Hot weather and dehydration can contribute to fatigue. An outdoor walk in cool weather has shown to decrease fatigue in a study of nursing home patients. Drinking 64 oz. of water daily is recommended.

4) Proper Nutrition
Balancing your intake of carbohydrates, protein and fat will provide a source of energy for your body. A daily multi-vitamin and minimizing alcohol to 1-2 drinks per day may also be helpful.

5) Weight Loss
Over-eating can exacerbate fatigue. Moving an over weight body can also be very tiring. A ten-pound weight loss can make a difference.

6) Managing Disease
Controlling conditions such as diabetes, pain, asthma, and heart disease can help combat the associated fatigue caused by systemic diseases.

7) Sleep Hygiene
Poor sleep patterns can lead to daytime fatigue. Avoiding caffeine, going to bed at a specific hour daily, and minimizing your restless time in bed are some examples that may improve sleep quality.

8) Stress Management
Meditation or relaxation techniques can help alleviate muscle tension that can lead to fatigue or poor sleep.

9) Exercise
Although exercise is often the most difficult to do when tired, it may help the most. Endurance exercise such as walking, swimming or bicycling can improve air exchange and the efficiency of the heart. Strengthening exercises can improve posture and weak muscles that contribute to generalized fatigue after prolonged standing or physical activity.

10) Managing Depression
Depression plays a role in 80% of people complaining of fatigue, according to a large study at Lahey Clinic. Seeking professional help may assist in recognizing and treating this common condition.

Fatigue can be very powerful and interfere with a person’s quality of life. Practicing healthy lifestyle activities can make a difference and help return energy to your life.

Do you want to learn more about causes of fatigue and ways to improve your energy level? Come to a FREE public lecture at Chatham Health & Swim Club,
Saturday, Sept. 26, 10 – 11am. Call 508-945-3555 to reserve.

Carol Penfield M.S. is the owner of Chatham Health & Swim Club, a nurse practitioner, certified personal trainer and nutritionist. She instructs private and small group fitness programs to members and non-members. Her office phone is 509-945-7761.