Have I reached out and touched impending old age? And is it defined as a feeling of weakness, coupled with a peculiar lack of energy and laced with a tad of general fatigue?
I say this because, a couple of weeks ago, I woke with a long list of 'to dos' all sorted in my head and, indeed, written on my 'to do' notepad. I've always found, with forward planning and my list, most things do get done, most of the time.
But on this particular day, by the end of the day I'd done almost none of what I'd set out to achieve. It wasn't an 'office work' day, but a day to be catching up on the gardening, the greenhouse, the housework and some ironing.
First, the greenhouse. I got out my sturdy folding stepladders so I could climb up and tie in the tomatoes and cucumbers. And to my horror, I couldn't do it. My thighs wouldn't let me move to the next step up no matter how hard I tried. They felt weak and useless.
I then tried to hoe two sections of the vegetable patch, and this time found that within minutes of my allotted half hour for this job, I had to stop – I was breathless. I tried the treadmill in the barn – same, I just wanted to go to bed.
I didn't – but the day was a write off. I gave up and just sat around. Next day was a marginal improvement and within a few days I was back to near-normal – but feeling shell-shocked. Would these periods of 'negative body' become more frequent, more debilitating? Was this my flesh and muscles, nerves and blood telling me I'm not 30 or even 60 any more, and I should accept it?
I was scared. None of us really think we are going to get to the day that we can't do stuff that we used to do. I don't think I've been particularly inactive or unfit these last few months but obviously something needs to change.
It was during this period of debilitation that I happened to read some new USA research telling me that if I am feeling 'old and frail' (the scientist's words) I should probably up my intake of a substance called carnitine, which is found in animal protein, especially red meat. It could help maintain strength and stamina and facilitate things such as stair climbing and lawn mowing (and stepladder climbing and hoeing, I daresay).
But the fact is that I do eat quite a lot of red meat anyway, and while I believe a little can be good for you, too much is probably not the solution, and what if you're a non-meat eater? So I set about writing myself a list of things anyone can do to help keep themselves strong, and energised and generally able to find it easy to tear around the house and the streets and the shops and the fields, and feel normal.
Top tips for feeling more energised
I've been adhering to my list for 12 days now; I can't say if it's 100% the answer but if it just helps avert another frailty crisis, I'll be grateful. Apologies if some of them don't apply to you, but I was doing it for my selfish self.
- Think of alcohol as something you have now and then, if you feel like it, not regularly. Alcohol and older age do not go together well.
- Make a good, natural night's sleep your holy grail. Not having so much alcohol will help. Insomnia is an important cause of physical disfunction.
- Get fresh air every day and get fresh air through your home.
- Eat smaller meals and snacks rather than large blow-outs, and don't get too fat – it's harder for your muscles to carry you around if you are lots overweight.
- Eat half the amount of carbohydrate (bread, potatoes, pasta etc) you were told you need back last century and eat more nuts, seeds, fish, pulses and vegetables.
- Keep using your muscles – arms, legs and stomach – try to lift things and do plenty of stairs every day.
- Keep your lungs healthy – get a little bit breathless through activity every day, then you won't get uncomfortably breathless now and then.
- Consider a Co-Enzyme Q10 supplement, an antioxidant involved in energy production. Body levels diminish considerably as we age.
- Stay relaxed: fatigue can be caused by anxiety, due to overactivity of the adrenaline system.
- Get checked out by your GP with standard tests for blood sugars, thyroid and anaemia – three fairly common causes of fatigue and weakness. (I haven't done that yet but I will let you know).
I've been testing recipes for a dairy, meat, refined sugar and gluten-free cookbook and, not being my usual style of eating, I've found it very interesting. I liked this simple recipe for rhubarb with elderflowers, both of which have been in abundance in my garden/field hedge for the past few weeks. Elderflowers give sweetness so there isn't so much need for sugar. Agave nectar is a delicious alternative to sugar.
Poached Rhubarb with Elderflowers
Cut 4-5 tender red rhubarb stalks into 2-3-inch pieces and arrange in a large lidded nonstick frying pan in one layer.
Combine the juice of half a lemon, a tablespoon of mild agave nectar, 100ml hot water and the flowers from 3 heads elderflower, pour over the rhubarb and bring to simmer over medium low heat.
Put lid on and simmer for 3 minutes then turn the rhubarb pieces over and simmer for a further 2 minutes or until it's just tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove the fruit to serving plates. Stir the liquid to reduce to a syrupy consistency – sieve if you like - then spoon it over the rhubarb and decorate with elder flowers (and lavender and rose petals if you have any).