Tiredness or fatigue is one of the most commonly reported symptoms in primary care. There are many different types of fatigue. For example, people may experience fatigue if they cannot sleep well or if they exercise intensively. But there are a lot of older people that feel fatigued all day every day for no apparent reason. This can be distressing and may reduce their quality of life. We don’t currently know a great deal about this problem. For example, we don’t know how daily physical activity levels are related to these experiences of fatigue. On one hand, people who are more active might be more likely to feel tired. But on the other hand, people who experience unrelenting fatigue may be forced to be less active. I am a post-doctoral research fellow working in the Geriatrics, Movement and Stroke (GeMS) group at NTNU, and through collaboration with CERG and the Generation 100 study, I was able to try and find out a bit more about fatigue.
I looked at data collected from 980 people who participated in the Generation 100 study. As part of their initial examination, these participants completed a questionnaire that measured their fatigue levels, and also wore a device the recorded how active they were during their daily life. I found that people who reported high levels of fatigue were less active than those who did not. To be more specific, the people who were fatigued walked an average of over 1000 fewer steps per day and exercised at moderate intensity for an average of 9 minute less per day. Their overall energy expenditure, according to the accelerometer counts recorded by our activity monitor, was 15 percent lower. These amounts are significant in terms of health, happiness and the ability of older people to manage their daily tasks. It might seem like fatigue restricts the amount of activity people can do in a day, although with this type of analysis we can never be sure that it is not the other way around. Insufficient physical activity might lead to loss of fitness and therefore feeling more fatigued by every day activity.
We also looked at factors that might explain why people with more fatigue were less active. What we found was that people who were overweight, people who were less fit, and people who had more health problems tended to both feel more fatigued and be less active.
This study highlights that physical activity, fatigue, fitness and health are all intertwined in very complex relationships and it is difficult to know what we should focus on in order to help older people stay active and prevent a cycle of decline.
The results of my investigation have now been accepted for publication in a prestigious journal:
“Fatigue may contribute to reduced physical activity among older people: An observational study.
Thorlene Egerton, Sebastien FM Chastin, Dorthe Stensvold & Jorunn L Helbostad. Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences”
I would like to thank CERG for allowing me to be involved in their research activities, and especially like to acknowledge and thank the Generation 100 participants for giving up their time to attend the assessments and complete the pages and pages of questionnaires every year. Their contribution is helping us to understand more about a wide range of health and fitness issues.
Dr Thorlene Egerton, PhD, GeMS group, NTNU