There’s no doubt that along with following a healthy diet, exercise will increase your energy, both immediately and over the long haul, making it easier to do everything from going to work to cleaning out the basement to running a 5K. It helps increase your strength and stamina, gives you sounder sleep, busts stress, fights depression and fatigue, invigorates your brain and helps keep you at a healthy weight — which by itself will give you more energy.
And it just makes you feel good. Exercise releases endorphins, your body’s natural happy pill. The more endorphins you have coursing through your veins, the better you feel.
Moderate and Steady Wins the Energy Race
That picture you have in your head of being chained to the treadmill, drenched in sweat, pounding away for hours, just to reap these benefits — throw it out. Long, grueling exercise only leads to fatigue for most people.
What takes you to the finish line in your everyday life is regular, moderate exercise. A brisk walk, a bike ride, an aerobics class can all do the job — anything that gets your heart rate and breathing up.
Not quite there yet? Low-intensity activities work too. One study showed that regular, low-intensity exercise, such as leisurely walking, helped inactive adults who suffered from fatigue increase their energy by 20 percent and decrease tiredness by 65 percent.
Do Anything — It’s Better Than Nothing
Experts are quite clear on this point: Get 30 to 60 minutes of exercise three to five days a week for improved energy as well as to help prevent heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. But if you can’t hit that target for whatever reason, do something.
“If you have a choice between not moving and moving — move,” says Heather Nettle, MA, coordinator of exercise physiology services for the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation Center. “Ultimately it will help with overall health and well-being.”
“One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is having an all-or-nothing mentality,” says Caroline Dawson, MBA, a certified fitness trainer and instructor at Town Sports International in New York City. “If you can realistically only commit to working out three days a week, remember that three is better than zero! Even if you can devote only 10 or 20 minutes to exercise, you’ll always feel better afterward.”
A Virtuous or Vicious Cycle
The other key to winning the energy race is getting good shut-eye. While quality sleep helps our bodies and our minds repair and recharge, chronic sleep deprivation creates persistent fatigue. And many of us are not getting the seven to nine hours a night we need. “Everything cascades down in the wrong direction when you’re sleep deprived,” says Gordon Blackburn, PhD, program director of cardiac rehabilitation in preventive cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic. When we’re tired, our bodies crave high carbohydrate foods like sugary snacks, Dr. Blackburn explains. Sweets means more calories, not to mention that sugar crash we know is coming. Plus, when we’re sleep deprived, our bodies hold on to calories and fat. And, as if that weren’t bad enough, when we’re tired, we’re less likely to exercise.
But you can flip that downward spiral on its end and create a virtuous cycle instead. Get good, regular sleep and you’ll have more energy for every part of your day. “You’ll have more energy to exercise and be active. You’ll be more ready to tackle the stress. And you’ll be less likely to eat the wrong foods,” says Dr. Blackburn.
Ban Sleep Thieves
For some, getting good sleep is easier said than done. Our lifestyles make it easy to send the sandman packing. Here’s how to avoid the most common sleep stealers:
- Cut off caffeine by 4 p.m. It takes four to six hours for the average adult to metabolize caffeine, no matter how much you drink. Finish your last latte by 4 p.m. to help you sleep soundly.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. While having a drink right before bed may help you fall asleep initially, research shows that alcohol causes more fitful sleep, increases wakefulness and makes it harder for you to fall back to sleep. Some studies suggest that having even one alcoholic drink within six hours of bedtime increases wakefulness.
- Set a good sleep schedule and stick to it. Go to bed and wake up about the same time every day. Following this pattern helps cue your body to feel tired at night and makes it easier for you to wake up to your alarm in the morning. Be consistent, even on weekends. Sunday sleep-ins can throw this schedule off track.
- Create a regular bedtime routine. Whether it’s taking a hot bath or drinking a cup of herbal tea, following a regular soothing ritual signals your body that it’s time for bed.
- Shut out the light at night. Keep your room dark and avoid exposing yourself to light in the middle of the night (try to keep the light off if you need to use the bathroom). It disrupts your biological clock, making it harder to fall asleep or go back to sleep if you wake up.
- Keep it cool. Most experts believe a cool room will help you sleep better because it mimics the drop in body temperature you experience when you sleep.
- Turn down the volume. The clanking furnace, loud wall clock and your spouse’s snoring can all interfere with sleep. If you can’t eliminate the noise, wear earplugs to mute it.
Dragging Despite It All
If you’re going to bed at a reasonable hour, getting regular exercise and eating right, but you still feel tired all the time, talk to your doc. Sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder in which breathing is temporarily and repeatedly stopped at night, affects about 6 percent of American adults and can cause significant sleepiness and fatigue, among other symptoms. Chronic fatigue syndrome, hypothyroidism, diabetes and anemia are other less likely, but possible, causes of ongoing lethargy.