Running on empty? You’re not the only one! One of the most common complaints in adults is fatigue or lack of energy. Twenty-one to thirty-three percent of patients visiting their doctor present with a complaint of fatigue, resulting in seven million office visits per year in the United States. Women report fatigue more commonly than men, which is not shocking. We learn to push through the day, but most of us are never fully charged. I am sure if we all could take a magic pill that would give us ample energy throughout the day to enable us to finish all of our tasks at hand, we would all be taking it. However, it is not as simple as a one size fits all kind of pill. There are a few lifestyle changes that are necessary to boost your energy naturally.
1. Get a good night of rest.
I know this sounds simply obvious, and may be easier said than done for some people. However, if we are not getting a minimum of seven hours of consistent sleep a night, we could be paying for the consequences the following day. Most people do not practice good “sleep hygiene” habits, which could be interrupting your sleep quality. Sleep hygiene means that the bed is used for sleep and sex only. Eating in bed, watching television in bed, playing with your phone in bed are not allowed.
I always recommend that patients disconnect from any blue light or electronic activity one hour before bedtime. Research studies have shown that the blue light from our devices disturbs our natural release of melatonin, or the hormone that signals our brain to wind down for sleep. The light from our devices makes our brain think we are trying to imitate nocturnal animals, and will cause our brain to be alert when it should be more sleepy. Not to mention, electromagnetic waves that our phone uses to refresh data are constantly being refreshed throughout the night!
Try disconnecting from your electronics before even entering your bedroom, and practice a new habit of deep breathing or meditation when you get to the bedroom. If your partner states that you snore and wake up gasping for air at night, or you find yourself waking up throughout the night short of breath, this could be a different condition that may be interrupting sleep and be detrimental to your health in the long term, and I would recommend discussing these symptoms with your healthcare provider.
“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” – Legally Blonde
Elle Woods may have been on to something. Endorphins are our body’s natural hormones that are released to give a burst of energy. The more endorphins that are released to help your body power through a workout session, the more endorphins that will be circulating post session. Research has shown that the more sedentary we are, the more tired we will be in return. For instance, patients that are undergoing chemotherapy are now being highly encouraged to continue to exercise rather than rest. These patients that complete 150 minutes of cardio activity and two strength training activities per week have shown to improve cardiovascular health, fatigue, anxiety, and muscle atrophy that ultimately affects the impact of treatment and disease on long-term survival.
Exercise may be another tip that is easier said than done! I know that this is the last task we have time for in our busy lives. However, I am only recommending only a minimum of 20 minutes daily to start! Try waking up 30 minutes earlier, or even trying to exercise during your lunch break. Grab a jump rope, switch between walking for 3 minutes and sprinting for 1 minute, or even some yoga poses. It takes 18 days to create a habit, so jump to it! Trust me, you will begin to feel energized in no time!
3. Essential Vitamins
Sometimes our bodies are deficient of essential vitamins that are critical for energy and mood. I am referring in particular to B vitamins. B vitamins are critical for a process known as methylation. Methylation is a complicated process in the body that, in short, involves the addition of a single carbon and three hydrogen atoms to another molecule. Methylation is like turning on a light switch to millions of minute processes happening inside your body without you even knowing it, ranging from how you react to stress to how your convert energy from food. B vitamins are methyl donors, which mean they aid in this process.
If we are deficient in B vitamins, or if one has a genetic variant affecting their methylation cycle, we will be prone to issues of detoxification and fatigue. I would recommend having some blood tests checked by your healthcare provider, including a B12 level and homocysteine level. This will help us to determine if you are deficient in these vitamins, and if you have an issue with the methylation cycle. Then we can determine what type of B complex works best for you and if this is the culprit to your fatigue.
4. Ditch the Caffeine Crutch
Once again, I am sure many of you are reading this and thinking, “this girl has to be out of her mind, I would not survive without my 3PM coffee!” What if I told you this could be one the many offenders that is causing your lethargy?
Caffeine causes an increase in cortisol secretion, or the hormone released from your adrenal glands that attributes to a response in stress. It is that natural “fight or flight” hormone that allows us to focus harder in stressful situations, whether it be an actual “fight” or you making that work deadline by the end of the day. The problem is, if this hormone is secreted too often and at inappropriate times, it will eventually flat line. I am not expecting anyone to discontinue caffeine cold turkey, I am simply suggesting to limit your intake.
If you can keep the cup of joe to less than 8 ounces daily, you can continue on your merry way. Instead of having coffee at 3 PM, grab a handful of almonds and drink some herbal tea. Most of the times, we desire that caffeine boost halfway throughout the afternoon because of a drop in blood sugar. If we substitute the coffee for a protein snack, your adrenal glands and blood sugar will thank you and act cooperative in return.
We live in a society where we are constantly in motion. We are always in hurry to get to the next place and in a rush to complete our long to-do list for the day. The last task on our mind is to take ten minutes for ourselves just to decompress. However, this innate mechanism is imperative for clarity daily.
The science behind it stems back to my conversation about cortisol. If our body is in that constant “fight or flight” signal, we can never truly relax. And if that signal stays elevated for prolonged periods of time, it will eventually not fire correctly. To try and reset that signal, the first step is to practice some kind of mindfulness activity daily. This can be a simple as deep breathing exercises.
My favorite exercise that I try to practice regularly is 4-7-8 breathing; inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Continue repeating this exercise for at least 10 repetitions or until you have reached your “zen”. This technique was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, and has been shown to have a relaxing effect on the nervous system and “tranquilizes” the mind in a state of calmness.
Pro tip: This can also help rock you to sleep if you are having trouble drifting away!
Have you ever noticed that after you eat an unhealthy meal you are not as productive, and all you want to do is take a nap on the couch or the first horizontal surface you see? It is true that foods affect energy. Processed foods, simple carbohydrates, and fatty foods have a negative effect on your energy level because they cause a spike in blood sugar. One may get an initial high after consuming these foods, but then that high will quickly dissipate after your blood sugars fall quickly after. Aim to eat a diet rich in complex carbs (vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fruits), healthy fats (avocados, cooking with coconut oils, ghee) and lean protein. Your body will be able to utilize these materials more appropriately, and you may not even crave those packaged goods anymore!
Once again, I know that this is a basic recommendation that most of you know you need! However, are you actually doing it correctly? Water is a fundamental factor that your body needs to complete its daily to-do lists, and it is like gas used to run your car. If your “gas” is constantly low, you deprive your body of its natural fuel and it will not work optimally. I recommend drinking filtered water equal to half of your body weight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 120 pounds, you need to drink at least 60 ounces daily. Set a timer on your phone to remind you to drink, and you will feel refreshed in no time!
These are some lifestyle tricks that may give you those wings the energy drinks are always promising! Take one step at a time; you will be more willing to stick with the changes if you introduce these methods slowly. There may be other health processes that can affect your energy quality, so if these tips do not make a difference for you, talk to your provider about exploring other issues that could be affecting your energy.