10 Instant Energy Boosters
Ever notice how your energy can fail at the most inopportune times? Your report to your boss is due tomorrow and you just can’t concentrate. Your kids want to play catch but you can hardly get off the couch.
Eating healthfully, exercising, getting enough sleep and reducing stress are the best strategies for physical and mental staying power. But there are times — like right before walking into a three-hour meeting — that you need a quick charge. Wake up your mind and activate your body with these 10 ideas for an instant energy fix.
Let the Sun Shine In
As soon as the alarm goes off, throw back the curtains and let in the daylight. Exposure to light signals your biological clock to make the switch from resting to being awake. Your brain stops producing sleep-inducing melatonin and releases stimulating hormones like cortisol and mood-boosting serotonin instead. Your body temperature also rises slightly, helping you feel more awake.
Move in the Morning
Exercise brings oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to your muscles and brain, increasing alertness and response time, and spurs growth in the parts of your brain that control memory, multitasking and planning, so you’re better prepared to handle whatever the day brings. Plus, you’re more likely to stick to an early-morning exercise routine. One study showed that after one year 75 percent of morning exercisers were still sticking to their workouts as opposed to only 25 percent of evening exercisers.
Get Your Sunny D
Vitamin D is not just good for your bones, it helps build strong muscles as well, so you can power through your day. Though vitamin D is readily available — our bodies make it when exposed to sunlight — 75 percent of us aren’t getting enough. Vitamin D deficiency impairs the production and secretion of insulin, the hormone that helps regulate our blood sugar levels. In fact, new research shows that vitamin D deficiency is thought to contribute to both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. If you can’t get outdoors, one cup of milk provides 25 percent of your D needs; many people need supplements to get their full dose.
Engage Your Brain
“Challenging ourselves mentally promotes an increased sense of focus, awareness and energy,” says Cynthia R. Green, PhD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and author of Total Memory Workout. It’s more fun than it sounds. Brain games played against the clock challenge our attention, processing speed and mental flexibility. Time yourself to complete the crossword, take up a new hobby or learn a new language. “Besides keeping us alert and vital, these kind of activities may promote ‘cognitive reserve,’ giving us a possible buffer against memory loss,” Dr. Green says.
Break up the Day
For increased productivity at work, take regular breaks. Long spells glued to your chair can lead to decreased heart rate, waning concentration and sleepiness. A little movement brings energizing oxygen to your mind and body.
“Easy stretches at your desk work wonders,” says Caroline Dawson, MBA, a certified fitness trainer and instructor at Town Sports International in New York City. Try a gentle spinal twist from your chair, Dawson suggests, followed by a short walk around your office — as little as 10 minutes of walking can boost your energy for up to two hours.
For many of us, the main cause of mental and physical exhaustion is stress. Stress impairs concentration, disrupts sleep and makes us more likely to get sick. Fortunately, we can quiet stress’s clamor with simple, focused breathing. To do it, close your eyes and concentrate on the sensation of your breath coming in and out of your body. Continue this mindful breathing for one to two minutes. Not only will it diffuse stress, but MRI scans have shown that deep breathing quiets the white noise in the brain, improving your concentration.
If the name alone doesn’t make you sit up in your chair, the results sure will. The yoga breathing technique known as “the breath of fire” is a series of rapid, forceful exhalations that stimulates your sympathetic nervous system for an instant charge.
Start in a seated position with your hands just above and below your bellybutton. Quickly contract your abs in and up, pushing your diaphragm toward the lungs and forcefully exhaling through your nose. Then let your stomach relax and inhale through your nose. Repeat 10 times, working up to three breaths per second for 60 seconds.
Sneak in a Catnap
What activity did JFK, Churchill and Einstein all partake in? Napping. These great minds knew what they were doing — a brief nap can be a highly effective way to recharge. The key is to keep it short, 10 minutes optimally. In a 2006 Australian study, participants who caught just 10 minutes of shut-eye reported immediate improved energy and thinking and reduced fatigue. Best of all, these perks last for more than two and a half hours. Longer naps left participants feeling groggy for up to 30 minutes after waking, though eventually they had similar energy levels.
Just as picturing a tranquil scene relaxes you, imagining an energizing scene produces a stimulating effect. “Think back to a moment in your life when you felt you were at your best,” Dr. Morledge says. It can be when you won a race, or just a situation when everything came together perfectly. Remember your smile at that moment, how you felt invigorated and euphoric. This image elicits an activating response from your nervous system, Dr. Morledge explains. Practice this technique for one to two minutes whenever you need a charge.
See the Forest for the Trees
A little time in the woods will do you some good. A 2006 study from Japan showed that shinrin-yoku, or forest walking, a relaxation technique practiced in Japan for almost 30 years, significantly improves energy, friendliness and well-being, and decreases hostility and depression. These effects were felt immediately upon entering the woods, and the longer the study participants spent in the forest, the more energy and less hostility and depression they experienced. Even if you can’t get out into nature, just looking at trees may have a benefit.