Do you feel as though you have less and less energy as you age? It’s not something to be ashamed of, and it’s common as we grow older. However, having a little extra spring in your step may be the key to longevity. New research suggests that fatigue in older adults is a very strong predictor of when they will die. The higher a person’s level of fatigue, the more likely it is that they may die in the next three years.
We know this news is depressing, to say the least. Over a third of Americans aged 51 and up experience fatigue, as shown in a 2010 study from the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Fatigue is also more common in women than in men. And with how much has gone on in recent years, it’s likely that you’re experiencing at least some fatigue.
Thankfully, there is an upside. According to the new research published in The Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, lifestyle changes can help rejuvenate a person’s energy, decrease their levels of fatigue, and boost their life expectancy. So, this might just be the wakeup call that some of us needed to prioritize our health.
Studying Levels of Fatigue in Older Adults
Curious about the link between fatigue and death, researchers from the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health decided to put it to the test. They pulled data from the Long Life Family Study, an ongoing international study that collects information on volunteers as they age. Then, the researchers zeroed in on 2,906 participants with an average age of 73.
To measure levels of fatigue, the team used The Pittsburgh Fatigability Scale (PFS), pioneered by lead study author Nancy W. Glynn, PhD. The PFS is a questionnaire that measures mental tiredness and whole-body fatigue. Respondents must rank from 0 to 5 how tired they might feel if they were to complete certain activities, such as a 30-minute walk or a one-hour social activity.
The researchers originally intended to collect data on the participants for more than three years. However, they cut their study short because of COVID-19, for fear that deaths stemming from the virus would skew their data. As a result, they didn’t include data past 2019 in their results, and they had only 2.7 years of data on each participant.
Fatigue is linked to higher risk of death.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found that participants with the highest levels of physical fatigue were twice as likely to die when compared to those who had lower levels. This was true even after the team adjusted the results for factors that could influence the data, such as heart disease, kidney disease, alcohol usage, and smoking history. In effect, the higher a person’s levels of fatigue, the more likely it was that they died in less than three years.
Now, the study did have some downsides that could cloud the results. Over 99 percent of the participants were white. So, the researchers couldn’t be certain that the results are applicable to everyone. In addition, the questionnaires were self-reported, so the participants may not have been honest about all their unhealthy lifestyle habits.
How To Increase Longevity Through Exercise
Still, fatigue in older adults is still a serious risk factor of death. So, how do we reverse it? “There has been research showing that people who increase their physical activity can decrease their fatigability score,” Dr. Glynn said in a press release. “And one of the best ways to increase physical activity — which simply means moving more — is by setting manageable goals and starting a routine, like a regular walk or scheduled exercise.”
In other words, don’t give up on your New Year’s Resolutions just yet! If you find a form of exercise that you like, you are far more likely to make it a habit. Whether you enjoy high-energy HIIT routines, calming tai chi, or a simple daily walk, you’ll be one step closer to revamping your energy and increasing your longevity.