The American Geriatrics Society, with support from the National Institute on Aging and the John A. Hartford Foundation, held its fifth Bedside-to-Bench research conference, "Idiopathic Fatigue and Aging," to provide participants with opportunities to learn about cutting-edge research developments, draft recommendations for future research, and network with colleagues and leaders in the field. Fatigue is a symptom that older persons, especially by those with chronic diseases, frequently experience. Definitions and prevalence of fatigue may vary across studies, across diseases, and even between investigators and patients. The focus of this review is on physical fatigue, recognizing that there are other related domains of fatigue (such as cognitive fatigue). Many definitions of fatigue involve a sensation of "low" energy, suggesting that fatigue could be a disorder of energy balance. Poor energy utilization efficiency has not been considered in previous studies but is likely to be one of the most important determinants of fatigue in older individuals. Relationships between activity level, capacity for activity, a tolerable rate of activity, and a tolerable fatigue threshold or ceiling underlie a notion of fatiguability. Mechanisms probably contributing to fatigue in older adults include decline in mitochondrial function, alterations in brain neurotransmitters, oxidative stress, and inflammation. The relationships between muscle function and fatigue are complex. A number of diseases (such as cancer) are known to cause fatigue and may serve as models for how underlying impaired physiological processes contribute to fatigue, particularly those in which energy utilization may be an important factor. A further understanding of fatigue will require two key strategies: to develop and refine fatigue definitions and measurement tools and to explore underlying mechanisms using animal and human models.